Members will elect the Leader of the Council.
A proposal was made that Councillor Cooke be elected as the Leader of the Council. In proposing Councillor Cooke, reference was made to everything he had learned from serving as Deputy Leader. The proposer also felt he was the right person to bring parties together from across the chamber so that the Council could best help residents and take action to support their needs.
Councillor Cooke’s nomination was seconded and comments made about how he had risen through the ranks, having served as a back-bencher, Cabinet Member and Deputy Leader. Reference was made to the activities in which he had engaged as a young councillor and his attendance at the Local Government Association’s Leadership Academy. The seconder said that he found Councillor Cooke’s leadership style to be fair, transparent and honest.
One Member stated that things needed to change, which she could not envisage were Councillor Cooke to be elected as Leader. She therefore made a further nomination, proposing Councillor Paul Wood as Leader of the Council. His proposer expressed her belief that Councillor Wood would be willing and able to implement the changes the Council needed to be democratically representative and work cross-party. It was felt that he would bring a strong, collaborative approach that she didn’t feel had been met by Councillor Cooke.
In seconding the proposal, the speaker stated that collaboration would end the atmosphere that had governed meetings since May. Reference was also made to the performance of independent candidates in the May 2019 elections, which the seconder saw as an indication that the people of South Kesteven wanted independent Councillors to take a greater role. The speaker also stated that he felt the performance of the independents should be reflected in positions that receive special responsibility allowances as well as seats on committees. While he stated he recognised the difficulties for a new Leader to take a view on proportionality, he suggested a commitment could be made about ensuring management positions on committees were distributed on a proportional basis within a given period.
The Chairman invited both candidates to make a brief statement explaining what they would bring to the role.
Councillor Cooke highlighted the level of support he enjoyed as he carried the recommendation of the Conservative Group. He said that he wanted to be more open and transparent in the Council’s operations and he would not be offering positions in the chamber to ‘buy’ votes.
Councillor Wood referred to his years of service as both an officer and Member of the Council. He stated that he had wanted to reach a deal with Councillor Cooke that would reflect the performance of independent candidates in the local elections, requesting that the group be awarded a chairmanship, two vice-chairmanships and the vice-chairmanship of the Council. No agreement had been reached.
The two nominees were put to the vote and Councillor Cooke was elected as the Leader of South Kesteven District Council.
It was proposed, seconded and agreed to suspend Article. 4.11.4 of the Council’s Constitution, restricting the maximum amount of time a Member can speak to five minutes, for this item only.
The Leader expressed his pride at being elected, having lived and been educated in the district and with his family and friends also living in South Kesteven. He spoke about a common goal of all Members to deliver quality services for residents in the district.
Reference was made to achievements of the previous administration under the leadership of Councillor Lee and how it had led to a dramatic shift in the direction of the Council. The Leader also referred to a comment that had been made by a Council member in the local media, which stated that as Leader, Councillor Lee had many good ideas.
The speech also acknowledged the challenges that the Council faced in respect of its funding and how it was responding to those challenges. He referred to how the level of reserves, helped by the Council and a prudent approach that had been taken, to manage volatility. The next key financial challenge was expected in 2021/22. Preparations were underway to meet this challenge, when robust business cases and spending plans would be key.
Members’ attention was drawn to the positive findings of the Council’s finances by External Audit both in respect of its accounts and the value for money statement. Whilst it was noted that External Audit had requested a short extension, which was not something that had been experienced by South Kesteven District Council before, it was not an unusual request and indicated the robustness of the audit.
The new Leader indicated that there would not be a change in direction, as he believed the Council was on the right track.
Reference was made to the Council’s decision-making arrangements, including the formation of the new Companies Committee, which was being considered later in the meeting, and the appointment of a new Scrutiny Officer who would provide an additional resource to support the chairmen of the overview and scrutiny committees in providing challenge. Recruitment for a Head of Governance was also underway. He made a commitment to ensure openness and transparency which would include filming, recording and streaming meetings of the Council and its committees.
The Leader’s attention then turned to the council’s staff, whom, he said had undergone a challenging time over the previous two years, which had also created uncertainty. He made a commitment to continue undertaking the staff surveys, which had been reintroduced in 2017. He also stated that over the next four years, the focus needed to be on stability whilst continuing to deliver and keep moving forward. He also spoke about the importance of recruiting the best staff and developing talent from within the Council, citing the adage that the Council should train people well enough so that they could leave but treating them well enough so that they would not want to.
The speech recognised technological changes within society and the need to embrace these as part of the delivery of council services to meet modern values and expectations.
The Leader stated that he wanted South Kesteven to be a green council, referring to initiatives that were already in progress including replacing conventional streetlights with LEDs, looking at the use of food waste and having gone to tender for electric vehicle charging points in the market towns. He also spoke about work that had been undertaken in partnership with the Woodland Trust to develop a tree charter for local government.
Reference was made to the range of services that the Council provided, and projects that were in progress including the aim to build 500 new council homes over the next 7 years, a focus on development, a commitment to leisure, reducing the Council’s carbon footprint and promoting sustainable growth in the villages and towns across the district so that they could thrive and retain vital facilities. Mention was made to a successful bid by InvestSK which led to Grantham becoming a high street heritage action zone. He highlighted the link between growth, which created jobs and in turn funded better community facilities and services. Members’ attention was also drawn to the formation of DeliverSK, which would be incorporated before the end of the year. Its first project would be the regeneration of the former Cummins site in Stamford as part of the St. Martin’s Park development.
As well as working with the private sector, the Leader wanted to build further relations with the third sector. Statistical information on the number of Lottery SK tickets sold and good causes that had been supported during its first year of existence.
The Leader stated that prevention would be a golden thread running through all of the Council’s activities so that it was supporting and helping the most vulnerable improve the quality of their lives. To do this, he said that it was incumbent on working in partnership with public and private sector organisations.
He concluded by saying that he was looking forward to the next four years, working together, looking towards the future and delivering for everyone.
The Member, who was referred to the in the Leader’s speech as expressing support for the ideas of the previous Leader clarified that the quote had been taken out of context, and had related to an article that raised concerns regarding the economic climate, Brexit and a lack of arrangements about local government funding from central government.