It was proposed, seconded and agreed that Article 4.11.4 of the Council’s Constitution, which restricted the maximum amount of time a Member can speak to five minutes, be suspended during consideration of this item only.
Councillor Lee said that he believed that there was no limit to what a council could achieve if it had a firm vision and referred to the advantages that were enjoyed by South Kesteven, including its schools, industries and the countryside. He felt that making the most of those strengths would give the Council the opportunity to change lives and help those in society who needed it the most.
Councillor Lee spoke about the potential the Council had when he became Leader and how it had been his ambition to get the Council to challenge itself to think big and make things happen. He talked about some of the projects that had been delivered during his tenure as Leader, including the new cinema in Grantham, the new public realm and the new standard for cleanliness. He also referred to the increased support that had been given to local charities and good causes, the creation of Member grants and the support that had been provided to food banks.
He also spoke about the inception of InvestSK and how it had changed the relationship with businesses and the investment community and how each of the Council’s market towns now had its own festival. He thanked Steve Bowyer and the InvestSK team for the work it was doing on the Council’s behalf in support of local business, driving economic regeneration, arts, culture and the visitor economy.
Specific reference was made to the purchase of the former Cummins site in Stamford, which Councillor Lee stated was decisive action to protect jobs in Stamford.
He also spoke about how the Council had gone from being officer-led to Member-led and its increased profile, having attracted companies like Ernst Young to work with it. Reference was made to measures that had been introduced that were designed to increase openness and transparency, including the formation of an all-party Employment Committee, inviting all members to attend Cabinet meetings and have input, and the replacement of electronic voting with voting by a show of hands.
Reference was made to the economic challenges that the Council faced and the need to generate more income within the district and growing the economy, including the companies that had been set up by the Council. He spoke about the Council’s strong financial position, which would enable it to borrow and invest in assets to drive economic growth and generate additional income, which could in turn be used to enhance council services.
Comments were made about the steps that had been taken to address the shortage of council and affordable housing, so that young people would be able to afford to live in the district.
He stated that he believed Councillors were elected to deliver, and while he considered that huge progress had been made, there was still more to do. He spoke about difficult conversations that the Council would need to have about what it was and was not prepared to do. His view had been that addressing economic development was the answer, but his stepping down indicated that others did not share the same view.
The statement included comments on a recent re-emergence of suggestions about the creation of a unitary council for Lincolnshire and how the item had previously been strongly rejected.
In concluding, Councillor Lee stated that there were some people to whom he wished to express his gratitude for their support and loyalty. Finally, he wished Councillor Cooke every success, anticipating that he would be the next Leader.
On the conclusion of Councillor Lee’s speech, he was met with the applause of members from across the Chamber.
The Chairman thanked the former Leader for all the work he had done when he was in post, adding that she hoped the agenda he began, which promoted the towns and villages in the district, would continue to progress.
Several Members from across the Council were given the opportunity to say a few words about Councillor Lee’s contribution as Leader. Two thanked Councillor Lee for his respect and friendship, with one recognising the mark he had left on the Council and thanked him for the steps he had taken to include the Labour group where it would not otherwise have been entitled to seats on some of the Council’s committees. Support was also expressed for some of the programmes that he brought in, including access to Cabinet meetings and plans for social housing. Tribute was also paid to Councillor Lee’s passion and he was wished well in whatever he chose to do next.
Another group leader reiterated the sentiments about being treated with courtesy but did highlight a number of policy points, some where their views complemented one another, including building new Council housing and others on which they differed, specifically the creation of InvestSK. Some concern was expressed about what the leader of the Labour group saw as the ongoing lack of seats on committees for her group.
The Conservative group’s acting leader remembered when he had first met Councillor Lee, stating it had been an honour and privilege to serve as his Deputy Leader, and thanked him for his friendship. He added that he looked forward to continuing to deliver what had been started under Councillor Lee’s leadership. Finally, he expressed his gratitude on behalf of the Conservative group for everything that Councillor Lee had done for the Council.
There was further applause from Members across the chamber.