THE fresh face, the old guard and the controversial backbencher will battle it out for the leadership of Oxfordshire County Council.

Current leader Keith Mitchell will stand down on May 15 and, with nominations opening today, candidates are stepping forward.

Former cabinet member Ian Hudspeth has joined deputy leader David Robertson and Carterton backbencher Pete Handley to announce he will be standing.

Mr Hudspeth, who represents Woodstock, said he would offer the party “traditional Conservative values but with a younger outlook”.

He said: “I can bring my real-life experience to the fore.

“The group know they have the opportunity now for the next generation to carry on the excellent work Keith has been doing for the past 10 years. It is always going to be a different style to Keith and my style is more consensual. My style is to work with everyone to find a solution.”

Mr Hudspeth said his policies include lowering taxes, giving more power to councillors and avoiding duplication with other authorities.

Mr Hudspeth lost his growth and infrastructure cabinet position after standing against Mr Mitchell during a leadership contest last year.

Mr Robertson, who serves as deputy leader under Mr Mitchell, said he would aim to deliver council services with more “compassion and understanding”.

He said: “Some have the view that the message that comes out of the county council is that it’s not caring or feeling, and I regret that very much. I’m a genuinely compassionate person and we have been trying to demonstrate that but our message is not getting over.”

He hopes to get council officers to take “ownership” of the electorate’s problems and not just be “a voice at the end of the phone that does not take interest”.

He added: “I think I have a very different style to Keith. I would have a much more inclusive regime.”

He said he would aim to improve the quality of services and “drive down costs” to save cash and deliver as low as possible council tax.

Mr Handley plans to cut council “waste” by closing offices across Oxfordshire and moving services to one more easily-accessible building.

He said: “There has been a lot of frustration among the backbenchers in the past.

“I want all policy decisions to pass through the group before being made public, not as with the library fiasco where one person was making the decisions, talking to the press and then expecting the group to agree with what had been announced.

“This has happened several times over recent years.”

He also plans to cut the £182,000-a-year chief executive role to avoid “duplication” with cabinet and leader roles, and to share services, procurement and borrowing with other councils to save cash.

He added: “I know it is probably a 200m-to-one chance of me getting much further, but at least I will be bringing a lot of these issues into the open.”

The leadership race will be decided by the council’s 52 Conservative councillors, with the winner running both the party and the council.

The election is understood to be taking place at the Conservative group’s annual meeting on April 26.