EXCLUSIVE: Didcot council leader ousted in shock move

Didcot Town Council has a new leader, after Charlie Robertson was replaced by veteran councillor Bill Service over the weekend.

In a surprise move, the council’s Conservative group – who hold a majority on the council – decided to elect Cllr Service as the new leader, following a secret ballot vote in which he, Cllr Robertson and Alan Thompson were put forward as candidates.

The vote, which took place at Didcot Conservatives’ AGM meeting at the Conservative Club on Saturday, was brought forward after a call for a change in leadership at the council.

The move ends a somewhat-stormy time for the council with Cllr Robertson, who has been embroiled in public disputes with residents over the suspected sale of the town’s allotments and the delays in bringing forward the council’s budget.

Speaking to the Guardian, Cllr Service said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be elected town council leader for Didcot.

“It’s a big honour to be elected by your peers and I’m really looking forward to settling into my new role.

Cllr Service, who previously served as leader back in 2010, added his best wishes to departing Cllr Robertson.

He said: “Charlie took it in good grace. We have to remember it was only his first year in local politics.

“He put himself forward for the role last summer and we were very confident. He has shown a lot of pride in his role as town council leader.”

The newly-elected leader said that the council’s finance and general purpose, environment, personnel and planning committee line-ups would remain the same until May.

Cllr Robertson, who took the role last May after being elected a town councillor in the council elections, has experienced a tumultuous time during his spell in charge.

The youthful councillor looked to review the town’s five allotment sites back in November, and the Guardian has previously reported that this was due to plans to sell off one of the sites.

Despite repeated attempts to get in touch with Cllr Robertson, the former leader did not respond to the allegations and a Didcot Allotment Action Group was formed early this year in protest against the plans earlier this year.

He was then involved in another debacle over the council’s failed attempts to present a budget to the full council on three multiple occasions and was accused of forgetting to attend a budget meeting earlier this year in which Labour councillor Margaret Davies accused him of a ‘lack of leadership.”

Speaking to the Guardian on Tuesday, she said: “I did foresee this coming. It’s been quite difficult for an inexperienced leader to keep things along the straight and narrow.

“You really need a big background knowledge of the town in that role. Bill has this in spades.

“I’m looking forward to Bill’s time as a leader. I think he really understands what the role is.”

Neville Harris, an independent councillor on the council said: “The Conservative Group does not elect the leader of Didcot Town Council, the council itself does.

“That the nominee of the majority group on the council will be foisted upon the council is evident if past experience is anything to go by.”

Both Cllrs Robertson and Thompson declined to comment on the leadership change.