Council Conservative leader Ryan Houghton has vowed to fight for Aberdeen leisure facilities – as he announces plans to step down amid the spectre of looming cuts.
Mr Houghton will hand over the reins to his deputy Rick Brooks after crunch budget talks in March, The Press and Journal can reveal.
And he’ll use his last stand to protect both the city’s most vulnerable and leisure facilities – after the local authority was taken to court over cuts imposed in the last budget.
The council will consider how best to slash tens of millions from annual spending for the coming year as the SNP and Lib Dem leaders “plead” for cash from the SNP Scottish Government.
Aberdeen Conservative leader Houghton to step down in March
Mr Houghton has been at the fore of Aberdeen local politics since election in 2017.
But having embarked on a new career in law this year, and with a young family, he intends to step back.
The 32-year-old has pledged to continue on as ward councillor for Airyhall, Broomhill and Garthee.
Speaking exclusively to The P&J, Mr Houghton said: “It is a privilege to have held senior roles across the council in both administration and opposition, working to leverage those responsibilities for the betterment of Aberdeen.
“While the city continues to grapple with significant challenges, the long-term decisions and investments made during my time in Administration will continue to yield dividends for our city.”
He added: “Rick has the unanimous backing of our group as he takes over the leadership next year.
“His significant experience in industry and the third sector will stand him in good stead.”
Houghton played key role in £20m Union Street grant
As business manager of the Conservative, Labour and independent coalition formed in 2017, he steered huge council projects including construction of the £400m Teca, council houses and four new schools.
The RAF veteran took over as group leader and council finance convener in 2021.
However, controversy over decade-old online comments halted his rise to council co-leader at that time, as well as costing him his campaign for the Aberdeen North Westminster seat in the 2020 general election.
But those connections with the UK Conservative party leadership proved key as Mr Houghton helped Aberdeen secure £20m levelling up cash for the new market project on Union Street, as well as the recently announced north-east investment zone.
The Conservative also helped strike deals with Shell to take up their city centre HQ at the Silver Fin, as well as with BP and others to invest the city’s burgeoning hydrogen industry.
And as he pledges to fight for the council to continue supporting Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise Torry charity work, he takes pride in the part he’s played to ensure financial support for the Gordon Highlanders and Denis Law Legacy Trust too.
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His replacement, Kincorth, Nigg and Cove councillor Rick Brooks has been engineering manager in oil and gas for more than two decades.
He also runs Aberdeen foodbank and befriending charity, TLC.
Mr Brooks was unanimously selected as the new leader at a group meeting on Wednesday.
And he paid tribute to his predecessor, who will spend the next three months helping him transition into his new leadership role.
“Ryan has worked tirelessly over the last six years, and I am grateful for the support he has provided to me and other newly elected councillors in 2022,” Mr Brooks said.
“Together, we navigated scrutiny and constructive opposition in the face of significant cuts and service reductions after the change of administration in 2022.
“I am truly proud of Aberdeen’s history, and, more importantly, I believe in the city’s potential.
“I am confident that we can work together to deliver for the people of our city.”