KICKSTARTING the county’s economy by slashing red tape is top of the list for Oxfordshire’s new county council boss.

Ian Hudspeth yesterday officially took over as county council leader after his predecessor Keith Mitchell stood down. And in an exclusive interview with the Oxford Mail, the 52-year-old today sets out his policy ideas and priorities for the coming months.

He said he hopes to tackle Oxfordshire’s struggling schools and the bedblocking crisis, while continuing the council’s programme of cuts and volunteer-run libraries.

But his first major change is creating a new cabinet post to help boost the county’s economy – although there will be no new cash to go with it.

He has drafted in fellow councillor – and former newspaper editor – Nick Carter to go out to talk to small and medium-sized businesses to identify and slash bureaucracy in local government.

Mr Hudspeth said: “Small businesses are the key to Oxfordshire’s economy and we need to strip away the bureaucracy to get them working.

“Dealing with local government can be a bureaucratic nightmare.

“I would love to attract multinational companies to Oxfordshire but the reality is that real growth has got to be in small and medium-sized businesses.”

He hopes that by cutting bureaucracy he can bring new small and medium-sized businesses to Oxfordshire, encourage start-ups and boost existing firms.

Oxfordshire Chamber of Commerce president Nigel Wild said: “Small and medium sized businesses are key to the economy everywhere these days and they make up 90-something per cent of businesses in Oxfordshire.

“They are fundamental.

“The amount of red tape in local authorities is incredible and it is a good idea to cut it and to talk to businesses and find out what problems they face.”

He said that he knew of one-man businesses having to fill in 60-page reports, with information about their equal opportunities policy, for the “smallest job”.

Oxfordshire Federation of Small Businesses secretary Elizabeth Melvin said: “I think it is an excellent idea. Oxfordshire thrives on its small and medium-sized businesses.

“Our members say there is too much red tape and they would like to see it cut down to get things moving.”

Last month the Oxford Mail revealed a major survey of the county’s economy showed 70 per cent of firms reporting a rise in turnover and orders in the past year.

The Business Barometer survey also showed a further 47 per cent predicted they would take on more workers in the coming months.

Mr Hudspeth was elected leader of the council’s ruling Conservative group last month. It followed an unsuccessful leadership challenge against Keith Mitchell last year.

One of his main tasks will be taking the party into the 2013 full council elections.

He said: “I can promise the electorate that I will work as hard as possible and be as open and transparent as possible to deliver good services for the residents of Oxfordshire in these financially challenging times.

“My style inevitably will be different from Keith’s, but it is up to people to make that judgement and I am not going to be critical of Keith.

“I want to be viewed as my own person, but we are in the final year of the administration and we are delivering manifesto pledges.

“Next year, when the budget will be under my leadership, more of my personality will be involved.”