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Suffolk's leadership contest reaches climax as unitary bid put on ice

PUBLISHED: 14:05 09 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:05 09 May 2018

Matthew Hicks.   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Matthew Hicks. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The leadership of Suffolk County Council will be decided behind closed doors at a meeting of the authority's 52 Conservative members on Friday morning.

Current county council leader Colin Noble. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR.Current county council leader Colin Noble. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR.

And there have already been twists as cabinet member Matthew Hicks attempts to take the leadership of the Conservative group – and ultimately the council itself – off Colin Noble.

The most recent twist is the news that work producing a report into proposals for a unitary council for Suffolk – one of the main concerns that led to Mr Hicks’ bid – has been suspended by Mr Noble.

And the current leader’s statement to members urging them to support him has accepted so many of Mr Hicks’ concerns that one of the challengers’ supporters said: “Some of us think Matthew has a case for saying Colin has plagiarised his election statement!”

Both sides accept the battle – which will be decided in a secret ballot – is very close. But when pushed, supporters of both men said they believe Mr Hicks may just have his nose ahead.

One Noble supporter said: “I think Colin could win by one or two, or Matthew could win by five or six – that’s the kind of range we’re looking at.”

The meeting starts at 10am on Friday when both candidates will have a short time to put their case about why they should be elected leader of the group. They then have to answer questions from councillors.

Then the two candidates have to leave the room while other members debate among themselves before they cast their votes in a secret ballot. The result is announced as soon as the votes are counted.

Whoever is elected immediately becomes leader of the Conservative group on the county council and appoints a deputy leader. Mr Noble’s deputy is Jane Storey and Mr Hicks has said his deputy would be Mary Evans.

They do not immediately become council leader. Whatever happens at this meeting, Mr Noble will retain the leadership of the county until the annual meeting on May 24. He will chair next week’s cabinet meeting at which Mr Hicks is expected to be present as portfolio holder for protection and the environment.

On May 24 the victor will reveal his cabinet at the annual council meeting and is expected to be overwhelming elected by the authority where the Tories hold 52 of the 75 seats.

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