The challenge was made by Tory councillor Sean Holden at Hart’s latest cabinet meeting following an overview of the Conservative’s budget proposals given by Cllr Lorraine Fullbrook, cabinet member for finance.

Cllr Fullbrook said after the meeting: “Cllr Holden was absolutely right to challenge the Liberal leader.

“I was brought up to believe that if you are paid to be in charge, you take responsibility for the actions that occur under your leadership.

“Cllr Simpson is trying desperately to distance himself and his Liberal colleagues from the shocking 27% increase in Hart’s council tax last year, but it just won’t wash.

“I’m sure those who paid their council tax for his salary as council leader assumed that with that position came responsibility. If he is now claiming that he had no responsibility I think he has an obligation to repay the money he was paid that he clearly did not earn.

“It is now up to Cllr Simpson to either accept that as leader he was in charge when a 27% increase was imposed, or alternatively he can continue to deny responsibility and pay back his leader’s salary. It’s up to him.

“I understand why Cllr Simpson is so embarrassed by his record, especially as voters in the May local election residents will be faced with a clear contrast.

“When Liberals led the council the council tax went up 27%, when Conservatives do it, the tax goes up 2.5%.

“The message is pretty clear. Those who want to elect councillors dedicated to keeping down the council tax in Hart should elect a Conservative to represent them.”

But Cllr Simpson hit back: “I note the Tory spin mistress has not denied that Hart is an experiment for Conservative central office and a stepping stone in the political careers of the Westminster wannabes who will leave Hart and the mess they have created at their first opportunity.

“I deny ever saying I was not leader. I deny I have ever refused responsibility for my actions as a councillor or as leader of Hart.

“The exact opposite applies. I am proud of reversing the Tory rot with the help of those Conservatives who were brave enough to realise the mess their leadership had created and to realise that all councillors working together for the good of the district is better than the ‘yah boo sucks’ politics that the current Westminster wannabes relish.

“I am proud that I am the only leader of Hart who has had only two councillors vote against the budget presented by my all-party team.

“I am pleased that for just over 20p per week we saved so many services people were asking for and stopped government inspectors imposing their will upon Hart.

“I am sad that the education system has produced so many Conser-vatives who cannot do simple arithmetic.

“Eighteen Conservatives, 12 Liberal Democrats and five Independents equals 35 councillors. That means the 18 Conservatives had an absolute majority. Why are they so frightened of saying so?

“In my opinion it’s because they are all show and no substance. In attacking me the Tory spin mistress has stepped in to support her protégé the ‘boy blunder’, who replaced her as cabinet member for communications.

“Last year we had less grandiose titles but did the job for the whole district not just the few that central office approves of.

“We did not pay a councillor to be in charge of spin.

“Cllr Fullbrook has forgotten the current leader and one other of the current cabinet was in last years cabinet. Will they refund any money they received?

“Finally, why, if last year was so wrong, has the council tax not gone down this year?”