RYEDALE District Council has controversially decided to elect a leader for the first time in two years - with one councillor describing the appointment as “a con”.

The authority, which is under no overall control, chose Conservative Cllr Keane Duncan, 24, to fill the leader role - making him the youngest council leader in the country, according to the Local Government Association.

The new deputy leader is Cllr Steve Arnold, who stood in the recent council elections as a member of the Ryedale First independent group.

The appointments caused significant controversy at a meeting of full council held at Ryedale House on Thursday.

The role of leader includes representing the council at various outside groups, for example the local enterprise partnership or the devolution group.

Leaders are typically appointed from the council’s ruling group, but some councillors said that since the electorate had not returned an overall majority for any party, the role of a leader would be inappropriate for the council.

Cllr John Clark gave the example of dualling the A64, which his Liberal party are against on climate change grounds, but which the Conservatives are in favour of. “How does one individual represent these two diametrically opposed views?” he said.

But the leader role was approved by Cllr Caroline Goodrick. “There are decisions being made over which we have no influence,” she said. “We’ve had two years where we’ve not been represented and it’s done us no good at all.”

Cllrs Duncan and Arnold were appointed after the Conservatives and Ryedale First groups voted together on the motions.

This collaboration was heavily criticised by other independent councillors. Cllr Simon Thackray said: “The Ryedale electorate did not elect a Tory leader. If a Tory leader is elected it would be a travesty and the people of Ryedale will have been conned.”

And Cllr Tony Riby revealed he has already left the Ryedale First group - which has pink as its colour - after their collaboration with the Conservatives. “I believed I was independent,” he said. “But unfortunately I no longer wear the pink tie.”

Speaking after the meeting, new leader Cllr Duncan said: “It is time to look ahead and to move forward together as a united council. I am keen to shake things up and make sure we do business in a more transparent and collaborative manner.

“I look forward to working in partnership with Steve Arnold from Ryedale First to steer our district in the right direction.

“We won’t get everything right, but with hard work, determination and good will I am confident we can make progress.”