JANE Scott’s leadership of Wiltshire Council's Conservative group is under threat from a former member of her cabinet.

Stuart Wheeler has told colleagues he will challenge Baroness Scott at a meeting on April 19, hinting at growing discontent with the current controlling leadership style and how it will play out at the next elections.

But Mrs Scott has vowed to “stay and fight” - adding that the timing of the challenge was “absolutely wrong”.

The challenge comes after she was criticised for her failure to appear in Salisbury for over three weeks after the nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

She sent her deputy, John Thomson, who said she was too ill, only for it to emerge that she had attended the House of Lords on three occasions during that time, claiming her attendance allowance of £300 a day.

Mr Wheeler was sacked by Mrs Scott from his job as cabinet member for heritage and arts after last May's elections.

In an email circulated to Conservative councillors, he states that he is “concerned about a growing disengagement between the Conservative leadership and the rest of the group”.

He adds: “Decisions on policy appear to be decided in advance and then presented to members as a fait accompli.”

Calling for a dialogue about the future leadership of the group and the council “well before the local elections in 2021”, Mr Wheeler writes: “I think there needs to be a much more general conversation about how we present ourselves as Conservative councillors to Wiltshire.”

He said policies for the 2021 election should be agreed “well in advance to allow pre-campaign efforts to be put in place.”

If elected, Mr Wheeler said he would support the leader of the council to get the best for Wiltshire from central government.

And he vowed to improve “avenues of communication between the leadership and supporters on the back benches”.

Even if he won the group leadership now, this would not make him leader of Wiltshire Council because Mrs Scott will be free to continue in the role until the next elections in 2021.

Mrs Scott’s leadership has not been challenged since Wiltshire Council was created in 2009.

Addressing some of Mr Wheeler's concerns, she said she would talk to councillors next week about making group meetings “more productive and more frequent”.

Confirming her intention to stand down as council leader before 2021, she added: “I have always been very open and honest about that. I shall be 74 at the next election.”

And she said: “This is democracy. We have a leadership election. I will stay and fight this. I think it’s important that the group leader and the leader of the council are one and the same person.”

There is some sympathy for Mrs Scott in the Conservative ranks. One councillor said: “It seems wrong to me that there’s an attempt to remove her in this way.”

Mr Wheeler said he could not comment without Mrs Scott’s permission.