Learning curve gets steeper for new leader

New council leader Shona Haslam
New council leader Shona Haslam

When newly-elected councillor Shona Haslam talked on Friday about a “steep learning curve” ahead, she had no idea just how precipitous that curve would be.

But now, as she readies herself to become Scottish Borders Council’s first female leader, she says she is relishing the challenges ahead.

The programme manager for the Peeblesshire Youth Trust was one of eight new Conservative councillors elected on Friday, taking their party’s total to 15.

And this week it was confirmed that the Conservative group has formed a coalition with seven of the eight independents to create a 22-strong ruling administration, with Mrs Haslam at the helm.

Speaking to the Southern on Wednesday, Mrs Hamilton said: “To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how it came about that I was asked to be leader.

“I didn’t put my name forward at all, and I would have been happy taking any role in the council.

“But when I was approached by Conservative Group leader Michelle Ballantyne on Sunday, I thought about it long and hard, and I decided that I could do a good job.”

Asked what she would bring to the role, the 42-year-old told us: “Personally, I’d say that I have a great deal of enthusiasm. It will be good to start with a clean sheet, bringing a fresh pair of eyes to the role.”

Mrs Haslam said she had handed in her notice at the trust, which she has run since May 2015.

She added: “It will be really hard to say goodbye to the trust, as it’s a role I have really loved, but I hope that the experience I have gained there will help me in my role as leader of the council.”

Mrs Haslam was also the national director of the Asthma UK (Scotland) charity between September 2007 and May 2015.

She gained her masters degree in politics and international relations at the University of Aberdeen in 1996.

Mrs Haslam, who said she was “overwhelmed” by winning more than 1,800 first preference votes from electors in Tweeddale East, said the other roles in the administration would be announced next week.

She added: “Our first priorities will be to improve the region’s roads, health and social care and a review of the schools estate.

“We will also be replacing the Area Forums with five new locality committees, which will work with communities and businesses.