A long-serving Lancashire county councillor has become the new leader of the opposition Labour group on the authority – and he says his sole focus is taking control of County Hall from the Tories at next year’s local elections.

Matthew Tomlinson was elected unopposed to the top party job by his 26 Labour colleagues on the county council.

The Leyland Central division representative – who first secured a seat on the authority 23 years ago – takes over following the suspension from the party of Pendle's Azhar Ali. 

He stepped down amid controversial comments made about the war in Gaza while the Labour candidate in the Rochdale parliamentary by-election earlier this year.

County Cllr Tomlinson said: "I only have one priority – and that’s to build a team of councillors and candidates who can win the local election and then represent the people of Lancashire at County Hall.

“I think it’d be different if you took over a group in year one [of a four-year term] than it is if you take over at the beginning of year four.

“(We) are absolutely focused now on the General Election that’s to come. So all of our Labour county councillors will be out across Lancashire, supporting our parliamentary candidates.

“And then the minute that’s over, we will be able to focus our efforts on the county seats that we need to win,” said County Cllr Tomlinson, also a South Ribble borough councillor since 1999.

The next county poll is in May 2025, by which time the Conservatives will have been in charge of Lancashire County Council for eight years.

The last time Labour was in control – between 2013 and 2017 – County Cllr Tomlinson was cabinet member for children, schools and families.  He was also responsible for the sustainable development portfolio back in the 2000s.

His policy preoccupations now will be the adult social care sector and potholes.

He added: "We want to work more on prevention…[because] the population of Lancashire is getting sicker and it’s getting poorer – and I would say this but it’s an indictment of 14 years of austerity.

“[On potholes], I have tasked our highways spokesperson Kim Snape to go away over the next year and look at innovative solutions to the problem."

He believes “90 per cent of every single election that ever happens is based on national politics”.

“I’ve only ever lost one election – and that was for the county council in 2009 when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister and it was the MPs expenses scandal," he added.

He takes over from former county council leader Jenny Mein.  She took temporary charge of the Labour group after the suspension of County Cllr Ali who is currently sitting as an independent.