Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell has announced that he is to step down as Leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea after 13 years. Sir Merrick is a great champion for localism and has been an enormously innovative and influential council leader.
Only last month I noted the irony that as LGA Chairman his job was to justify the level of progress that councils in general were making in terms of saving money and improving services – while as leader of Kensington and Chelsea he proved himself wrong by showing how so much more could be achieved.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles says:
"I have worked with Sir Merrick for many years and he is a true public servant and local champion.
"Under his leadership the Council has achieved some incredible things for the residents of Kensington and Chelsea. The Tri-borough initiative he helped spearhead is a shining example of shared services savings to all in local government."
Under Sir Merrick's leadership Kensington and Chelsea achieved some of the highest resident approval ratings in the Capital, while its residents have enjoyed one of the lowest council taxes in the country. His achievements include the opening of a fantastic new secondary school, the Chelsea Academy. Decluttering of Exhibition Road was a brave decision but has reduced accidents as well improving the environment and given others the confidence to get rid of "safety" barriers.
Sir Merrick was one of the principal architects of the 2002 `crack house protocol', a then unique and highly controversial commitment to close crack houses and evict the tenants within six weeks of the crack trade being confirmed as active at the premises. He also authorised the Council's pioneering use of `S222 injunctions' to ban dealers from the borough. A series of evictions and injunctions swiftly followed and the crack den crisis eased.
The `Tri-Borough initiative', a radical back office and service sharing arrangement with Westminster and Hammersmith & Fulham was more thanks to him than anyone else. My local Labour MP Andrew Slaughter attacked the proposal and said that talk of savings was "voodoo economics." But the savings are real. They will be worth at least £10 million by 2015 for Kensington and Chelsea alone.
Sir Merrick says:
"It's been my good fortune to work alongside an unusually talented and dedicated group of councillors and officers. Together I think we have done a good job for our residents. Our services have been excellent, our taxes low. And in the days when there was a lot more money around we didn't squander it, but used it wisely to build for the future.
"It's a record we can be very proud of."
A new leader will be elected by the Council on 22 May 2013.
Sir Merrick intends to remain as Chairman of the LGA for a further year and to continue to serve the people of Stanley Ward as one of their elected representatives on the Council. In addition the Mayor of London Boris Johnson has recently appointed him to the deputy chairmanship of the London Pensions Fund Authority.