26/04/2011 Leave a comment
02/04/2011 Leave a comment
Yesterday the Conservative Group Leader and thus Leader of the Council announced his decision not to stand as Leader at the Conservative Group AGM. In doing so he retired from the front line of local politics and his will not be an easy act to follow. Whilst I am sure many people will write and blog about his influence on local politics over the past decade I thought I would use my blog to share a few insights into the man, I have observed in working with him over the past 5 years.
The first time I met Jeremy was in March 2006 when following the decision, due to work commitments, by my local county councillor to stepped down and thus a by-election was called in my patch. I was asked and said yes to be the Candidate. I had been previously asked if I would stand, but at the time of the County and General election in 2005 I was the Chairman of the West Suffolk Conservative Association and had decided I needed to concentrate on getting the MP Richard Spring and other county councillor candidates elected, which we did most successfully as we had a clean sweep apart from one Labour councillor in Haverhill but we managed to persuade him to cross the floor a few a couple of years later.
So I visited Endeavour House pre election to meet Jeremy as the prospective new Councillor and a frist timer at that, sitting in reception I was I admit a bit nervous, things looked up when Jeremy’s charming secretary Leanne came down to collect me and take me up to Jeremy’s office. She was very sweet and did her best to put me at easy making me a cup of tea. I was then ushered into Jeremy’s office and we had a chat about this and that, I later realised Jeremy was actually thinking so if this one gets elected, on what committee do I put him. I talked a bit about the Charity I am a trustee of working with older people and that was it, Adult and Community Services Scrutiny committee, job done, ‘next’!
Having got elected, over the next couple of years, Jeremy always asked how I was getting on as he put me on this or that committee. I was really pleased and surprised when he asked me to become the next Chairman of the group; now chairing a meeting with Jeremy sitting beside you is no mean feat, for, how can I put this, he did rather have a habit of talking charge.
During this time I was also invited to attend cabinet and it was here I started to really see the incredible work, commitment and energy that Jeremy put into the role of Leader. His command of the detail was amazing, there is no doubt whichever one of us takes over from him will have to work very, very hard not just to fill Jeremy’s substantial ‘shoes’ but the job itself is incredibly demanding and will swamp anyone who does not.
After the county election in 2009 when under his leadership, I suspect we arrived back from the campaign at the high water mark in terms of the number of conservative councillors returned with us being 55 of 75; Jeremy invited me into the cabinet and to take political command of Adult and Community Services, effectively one of the big two portfolio’s. I am sure this was a gamble on his part, and I hope it has paid off. Over the past two years I have worked with him and come to realised a number of things as we worked more closely together, firstly Jeremy has always been a man in a hurry, you learnt quickly to only ever take a problem to him when you have a couple of solutions as well! Secondly I think he also had the vision of what was coming in terms of the economy and cuts, it is amazing to me to think we actually started the work on the New Strategic Direction in September 2009, for all the concern around the decisions we are taking about where to make cuts; the fact is that irrespective of where, Government is stripping out 28% of our funding, and if the work being done to fundamentally lower the cost base of delivering services is successful, in 5 years time we will be delivering more services that people want than if we just ‘kept our head down’ and salami sliced our way forward.
This ultimately will be the third legacy people will hopefully remember from Jeremy’s time as Leader.
The first will be the re-organisation of the Council from the frankly ‘basket case’ way it was run before 2005; the over saving of £70M in back office efficiencies and turning Suffolk county council from being one of the least efficient to one of the most efficient in the country.
The second, that the liberals and labour would have us all forget, is about the Council tax we pay and their appalling track record, as the red rose or whatever its called and that terrible yellow thing drop on your door mat, sorry only in the area’s they think they have a chance unlike Conservatives who are broadly speaking campaigning in every ward up for election across Suffolk, but I digress. Let us not forget that the last time they were in power in the county they happily put up the council tax by 11.9% in one year and 18.5% in the next, utter madness! The conservative administration under Jeremy’s Leadership have delivered the lowest council tax rises in the councils history (2.5%, 2.45% and now 0% in the last three years), these historic lows are as a direct result of those efficiency saving and Jeremy’s demanding that the organisation learns to look to itself not the Council tax payers of Suffolk; This return to financial sanity has benefited us all and is a testament to our and Jeremy’s determination to put this right.
At a personal level Jeremy was always polite even when grumpy, he is a gentleman of the old school and always there to help if you had a problem with a resident or balancing the crazy world of being a councillor with work and family commitments.
Whoever replaces him, and there will be a number of us looking to do so, will have a tough act to follow.
His command of the detail, his sheer hard work and determination will be qualities we will need but more than that, for me it is his vision, not of managing but of leadership that we and Suffolk will need.
In these uncertain times that I can honestly say his selflessness in his role, his passion for Suffolk and his desire to do the right thing often not necessarily the political thing but the right thing, are the qualities I shall most often be reminded off when I think of his Leadership, and a fundamental benchmark I intend to always be a part of my decision making.
But most importantly I want to just say thank you to Jeremy for taking the time to help me learn and develop, and for the good he has done in Suffolk, for all the financial worries this country faces I am convinced that Suffolk is a better place for Jeremy’s efforts over the past 10 years than it would be without them and I do hope that he finds a role to continue to serve our great county.