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Former leader of SKDC Matthew Lee fails to divulge reasons behind his resignation in speech

Former South Kesteven District Council leader Matthew Lee has given a speech as he hands the reins over to Coun Kelham Cooke.

Here is his speech, in full:

"Leading this council for the past two years has been an honour and a privilege and I am grateful to you all for the opportunity to do so.

Coun Matthew Lee (7209593)
Coun Matthew Lee (7209593)

I have always been a firm believer in councils’ ability to change people’s lives for the better.

I also believe that there is virtually no limit to what councils can achieve if they have a clear vision, strong leadership and the confidence of their convictions.

This council and this district are perfect examples.

And as I said in my first speech to council, other districts would love to have the advantages we enjoy:

- Our fantastic road and rail links

- Our incredible heritage and history

- Our industry

- Our excellent schools

- Our beautiful countryside...

We are so familiar with these things that we often take them for granted.

As councillors, there can also been a tendency to see them as incidental or beyond the scope of our responsibilities. But I have always taken a much more holistic view.

I think that it is our job as a council to make the most of our strengths and to find ways to leverage them as much as we can.

To help make South Kesteven more than the sum of its parts. And if we don’t, who will?

Doing so gives us the opportunity to change lives – not just making good lives even better, but to make difficult lives bearable and help those in our society that need our help the most.

This council has enormous potential. It did when I took over in 2017 and it still does today.

One of my ambitions as Leader has been to get this council to challenge itself, to think big and to make things happen. Part of it has been about how we work and removing barriers and blockages. But a big part of it has been about recognising that when something is the right thing to do, we should simply get on and do it.

And we have made some big strides. For example:

- At long last we now have a fabulous new cinema here in Grantham, as well as new public realm

- We have set a new standard for the cleanliness of our streets through The Big Clean

- We have increased our support to local charities and good causes by launching LotterySK, introducing

Member Grants and supporting our foodbanks

- Through InvestSK we have transformed our relationship with the business and investment community

- Each of our four market towns now have their own festival, which help bond communities and benefits local businesses

- And we have taken decisive action to protect job opportunities in the centre of Stamford by buying the former Cummins site.

To underline how far we have come, major companies such as EY now want to work with us.

We have also made strides in how we function as a council:

- Turning this council from being officer-led to firmly member-led

- Spending more time debating rather than being briefed

- Increasing the number of scrutiny committees

- Introducing an all-party employment committee and regular group leader meetings

- And inviting members to attend and input to cabinet meetings

We have also re-introduced voting by hand, rather than secretly through electronic voting

All of these things mean I have delivered on my promise to put members back in the driving seat of this council, improve cross-party cooperation and help all councillors play a more active role.

I mentioned InvestSK a moment ago and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Steve Bowyer and his team for all the work they are doing on our behalf.

InvestSK is doing a great job supporting local businesses and driving forward our economic growth and regeneration agenda, as well as leading on art, culture, heritage and the visitor economy.

Members, over the past two years we’ve begun – just begun – to be a council that ‘does things.’ At the same time, we have also been gearing up to take on some of the big challenges we face.

Challenges such as...

- How we become financially self-sufficient and wean ourselves off ever reducing government money by generating more income from within the district and growing our economy

- Such as how we get significant private investment to flow into our district

- How we support the most vulnerable in our society

- How we deliver our Grantham-centric growth plans and improve the impression of the town that visitors get when arriving by train

- And, crucially, how we address the housing shortage in the district, particularly the acute shortage of council and affordable housing.

Councillors, the average house price in South Kesteven is now 7.9 times average earnings.

Unless this council takes action, I genuinely don’t know how we expect young people to be able to afford to stay in our district.

Addressing each of these challenges doesn’t just require more hard work and some wishful thinking.

They all require serious investment and serious experience to deliver.

As I said a moment ago, I am convinced that this council can do more.

As a council we are fortunate to be in a strong financial position, which means we can afford to borrow to invest in sustainable development and create assets.

Any such assets would be geared towards driving economic growth and would generate additional income.

This income can then be used to protect and enhance council services and invest in other schemes.

It would also help attract additional private investment. But delivering big schemes doesn’t just require money. It needs potentially large teams with the right experience that can work in the commercial world on equal terms with other companies.

That is why, under my leadership, this council has been exploring partnerships with private companies, be they potential investors or delivery partners.

Interestingly the main challenge hasn’t been finding a partner.

The challenge has proved to be balancing members’ desire for transparency with the need for commercial confidentiality.

Put simply, the more transparency we want, the more difficult it is for a partnership to operate in a competitive environment.

To work effectively, we need to ensure that there are appropriate levels of scrutiny and oversight, but that the joint venture has the flexibility and autonomy it needs to be able to deliver.

This is exactly what we have done when setting up DeliverSK with an investment partner. I very much look forward to seeing DeliverSK live up to its name.

Ladies and gentlemen, the bottom line is this. We are not elected to this council to talk about all the good things we could do for our residents and the district. We are elected to deliver them.

Yes, we have made significant progress in the past two years, but there is still a huge amount to do.

There are also some very serious challenges ahead.

And I suggest that now is the time for this council to have an honest conversation about what it is, and is not, prepared to do to address these issues.

I have always been very clear that I see driving economic growth and investment here in South Kesteven as the answer. Given that I am stepping down, clearly some of my colleagues disagree.

Other suggestions will no doubt be put forward in due course.

I know, for example, that County Council colleagues, of which a number also sit on this council, are again talking about disbanding district councils to create a single unitary authority.

This idea has so far been strongly rejected in 2017, but it looks like the debate may be coming around again.

We shall see.

I can honestly say that I have put my heart and soul into leading this council and I am enormously proud of what we have achieved.

There are lots of key people I would like to thank, but I don’t propose to name them all here. I am sure those people know who they are and how grateful I am for their support and their loyalty.

My final word is to my friend and colleague, Councillor Cooke – Kelham – to whom I wish every success as the next leader of this council."

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