FORMER Dudley Council leader Councillor Les Jones has returned to the authority's Conservative group to provide a "strong local opposition" following the rise of UKIP.

The long-serving councillor for Pedmore and Stourbridge East stepped down as the leader of the party last year before leaving the group shortly afterwards, choosing to remain on the council as an independent Conservative.

His wife, Councillor, Karen Shakespeare, who represents Halesowen North, also quit the group.

But after UKIP mania swept through the borough at the local elections, both cllr Jones and cllr Shakespeare, decided the "time was right" to return.

Cllr Jones, who left following in-fighting within the Dudley Tory group, said: "There were a lot of internal issues. I thought it was best for me to stand aside.

"A lot of those issues have been resolved and the effect UKIP had on the local election made me realise now more than ever, it was important to have a strong local opposition to the Labour administration of Dudley Council.

"I expected them to get votes but not quite so many seats - the upsurge of UKIP is counterproductive locally. It is a party founded on a limited range of issues.

“The stronger the Conservative opposition is the better.”

Cllr Jones said he would not be seeking a shadow cabinet position at the moment and added: "I have a stronger knowledge than some of the newer cabinet members so I will help them to reach their potential and move forward. I am happy where I am as a backbencher.

"I believe I am fairly good at debating in the chamber and have a broad knowledge of all portfolio areas - it seems to be my bag to take on lots of information and store it."

Dudley's Conservative leader, Councillor Patrick Harley said he was "over the moon" about the pair returning.

He added: "It is long overdue. Each and every member was happy to welcome them both back, they are great assets to the group."

Cllr Harley said he was not surprised by the decision: "If you listen to the last two full council debates, it is obvious Les was on message with the rest of the Conservative group. He has always been a Conservative. He had a few disagreements, which caused a fall-out but now he feels the time is right to come back and we welcome him with open arms."