THE Conservative Group on East Lothian Council has elected its third leader in the three years since it became the official opposition party.

Councillor Jane Henderson, leader of the opposition, has announced her plans to retire from her role as councillor at the next local authority election in two years' time.

And the group has named Councillor Lachlan Bruce, the youngest elected member of the council and a Courier columnist, as its new group leader.

It is expected that the council will be asked to formally appoint Councillor Bruce as leader of the opposition when it meets next month.

Councillor Henderson said: "Over the course of the lockdown, I decided for personal reasons that I would not be standing in 2022 and believe this is the right moment for the Conservative Group to elect a new leader who can spearhead our efforts as we move into the critical months ahead.

"It has been a real honour to lead the group over the last two years, where we have effectively held the minority Labour administration to account and pressed home the shortcomings in SNP Government

funding in East Lothian.

"I look forward to continuing to represent North Berwick Coastal ward over the period ahead and will give Lachlan and the Conservative Group my full support as we approach the crucial elections in

2021 and 2022."

Councillor Bruce said: "I would like to thank Jane for her sterling efforts and dedication as Conservative Group leader. Jane has worked tirelessly with the group and council officers to ensure we have delivered effective opposition and I look forward to continuing to do this in the months ahead."

The new Conservative Group leader said he would be working closely with colleagues to probe East Lothian Council's budget and finances following year-on-year reductions in core funding from the

SNP Government and significant financial problems resulting from shortfalls in income and additional expenditure due to Covid-19.

He said: "The council's financial position has deteriorated significantly since the Covid-19 pandemic and we will be pressing both the Labour administration and the SNP Government for prudent spending and a fair funding deal to avoid significant disruption to core services."

Councillor Henderson took over the role of group leader after Councillor Brian Small resigned from his position as opposition leader in 2018, one year after an election which saw seven Conservative

councillors win seats and move into the opposition role against a minority Labour administration of nine councillors in charge, while the SNP had six councillors.

Councillor Small, who almost died after being struck down by sepsis, later resigned as a councillor after accusing his group of being more interested in "opposing the SNP" than challenging the administration.

Tim Jackson, chairman of East Lothian Conservatives, said: "Jane Henderson has been a very effective group leader and I would like to thank her for all she has done, particularly during the unprecedented events of recent months.

"As she hands over the role to Lachlan Bruce, I am sure we will continue to see our Conservative councillors providing constructive opposition in the council chamber."