Tory chief stands down to spark leadership scramble

The leader of the Edinburgh Conservatives has stood down from his post to take on a newly-created role scrutinising major issues such as the tram development and statutory repairs scandal.

Jeremy Balfour stepped down today to take up the chair of a new committee designed to cut down on wasting public cash, sparking a leadership battle within his own party.

A qualified solicitor and former church minister, the 45-year-old said the new 
governance, risk and best value committee would have wide-ranging powers to scrutinise areas which in the past have led to financial crises.

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A new leader will be chosen on Friday, whose role will be the unofficial leader of the opposition at the City Chambers.

Councillor Balfour said it was important his new role was separated from the political leadership. He said: “I’ve really enjoyed being leader, but this is a new challenge. The governance and best value committee will look at how the council is doing in all areas. We clearly have to look at a range of issues, including statutory repairs, and we will be officers accountable for the action taken.”

Elected to the Murrayfield seat in 2005, Cllr Balfour is a former spokesman for the Evangelical Alliance. He has served as leader since 2010 when he took over from Iain Whyte, now chair of Lothian and Borders Police Board.

He said that with the Labour/SNP coalition dominating the council, with 38 of 58 seats, the role was crucial to ensure that bad decisions are not made.

The new governance committee will scrutinise all major projects and ensure the local authority uses taxpayers’ cash efficiently when contracting out work to private firms.

It is among a handful of new bodies set up which will be run by opposition councillors. Green member Maggie Chapman will chair the new petitions committee, allowing issues with 250 signatures to raise a motion before city leaders.

Among the frontrunners to take Cllr Balfour’s place as Conservative leader are Jason Rust, 34, Joanna Mowat, 39, and Cameron Rose, 58.

Who’s next?

Joanna Mowat

The daughter of a British army officer, the 39-year-old Edinburgh University graduate has emerged as one of the party’s most high profile members. A married mum-of-one, Joanna is a former political researcher at Holyrood and member on the Edinburgh Licensing Board, where she has advocated a hard line on rowdy pubs and dodgy off-licences.

Cameron Rose

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Born in Peeblesshire, the 58-year-old served with Lothian and Borders Police for 30 years, retiring as inspector before being elected to Southside/Newington in 2007. He briefly studied law before being, in his own words, “kicked out of Aberdeen University”. He attends the evangelical Carrubbers Christian Centre and is said to have the Bible app on his council iPad.

Jason Rust

Elected to Colinton/Fairmilehead as the youngest councillor in 2004, the 34-year-old property solicitor stood in the Westminster elections in 2010 but was

defeated by incumbent Chancellor Alistair Darling.

He has served as the party’s spokesman on city development and is regarded as astute, with a head for numbers.