Loyal readers will remember that I posted a couple of months ago speculating as to the reasons for the sudden resignation of Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) as Leader of the SK Conservative group, and therefore as Leader of the whole Council.
At last Thursday’s Full Council meeting, Matthew had an opportunity to explain the reasons for his departure. Standing orders were suspended in order to allow him to deliver a ten-minute farewell speech (although he still continues as a Councillor on the backbenches – the Tories wouldn’t want to risk a by-election in his ward!).
There appeared to be no mention of the recent departure of the Chief Executive, nor the departure of the Council’s Monitoring Officer last November nor any mention of any health issues which colleagues had cited in the media as potential reasons for the resignation. In fact, the first seven minutes were devoted to celebrating the highlights of Cllr Lee’s two years at the top and how brilliantly he has been managing the ongoing projects and challenges that it faces. However, anyone hoping to understand why Cllr Lee chose to pack it all in so suddenly was only offered these next few lines:
… Ladies and Gentlemen, the bottom line is this… I believe that we are not elected to this council to talk all the good things we ‘could’ do for our residents and for this district. I believe we are elected to deliver them! Yes, we have made significant progress in the last two years but there is still a huge amount to do.
There are some very serious challenges ahead and I would suggest that now is the time for this council to have an honest conversation about what it is, and what it is not, prepared to do to address these issues. I have always been clear that I see driving economic growth and investment here in South Kesteven as the answer. Given that I am standing down, clearly, some of my colleagues disagree.
Other suggestions will no doubt be put forward in due course. I know, for example, that the county council colleagues, many of whom also sit here on this council, are again talking about disbanding district councils to create a unitary authority. This idea has been strongly rejected but it looks like that debate may be coming round again; we shall see!
I can honestly say that I have put my heart and my soul into leading this council and I am enormously proud [etc, etc].
The speech was followed by applause and then followed personal testimonies referencing Matthew’s character and commitment from around the chamber. Cllr Charmaine Morgan (Lab) did begin to go off-message by admitting that the last two years hadn’t been without incident but the Chair of the Council was happily able to stop her from inadvertently pooping the party.
In what might sound like a fairly cynical blog post, I should say that while Matthew’s leadership style had its faults and we certainly had our disagreements, he did make a lot of progress in his two years as leader. The SKDC senior management team has very much been shaken up. A number of projects have come to fruition or are now in the pipeline that might not otherwise have been; these include the Deepings’ Saturday Market, the Bourne ‘Cicle’ festival and the new Deepings Leisure Centre. Matthew did offer backbench councillors more access to meetings and enhanced their ability to ask questions at Council and Cabinet meetings. Sometimes his enthusiasm for progress left questions about process but perhaps that’s better than doing very little and not having to answer any questions at all.
The speech and testimonials were followed by the election of a new Leader. Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) fought off a challenge from Cllr Paul Wood (Ind) and then gave a seventeen minute speech about how brilliantly the council has been run for the last two years and how brilliant it will be now that he is in charge…. We shall see!