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UPDATED: James Alexander to Stand Down as York Council Leader

James Alexander 121114

9:38pm 19th November 2014
(Updated 8:49am 20th November 2014)

York Council leader James Alexander is to stand down to take up a role with the national Labour Party.

He has led the council since 2011 after being elected a councillor for the Holgate ward in 2007.

The announcement came hours after opposition Conservatives put forward a motion of no confidence in him, which would have been debated at the council's meeting on 11th December.

Despite the recent loss in the Westfield by-election, James Alexander said he was confident York Labour will win next May's council elections.

In a statement he said:

I have relished the opportunity York people and the Labour Party have given me in electing me twice to serve Holgate ward and then to lead this great city over the past three and a half years. I have lived in York all my adult life, this is my home and it is an honour to lead the city in which I am raising my family.

People who know me know that I give everything I can to my work and the Labour movement. But the long hours, pressure of grappling with government cuts and personalised politics has taken its toll on me and my family. It is also widely acknowledged that the last few years have been a most difficult time for all council leaders.

Despite recently receiving unanimous support in the Labour Group to continue and a part of me wanting to go on, I cannot fully commit to another four years. My new policy role at the national Labour Party is an opportunity I could not turn down.

I am proud of what Labour has achieved under my leadership since 2011, to turn a city in stagnation onto the path to prosperity. Under my leadership we showcased York to the world by bringing the Tour De France here. We have helped reduce unemployment to record levels, outperforming national figures, bringing businesses like John Lewis and Hiscox. The city has seen Terry’s, the Bonding Warehouse and the White Swan developed. The Network Rail training centre has been the first major development on York Central in a generation and we can look forward to further developments coming to fruition.  This I believe reflects a new confidence in investing in York. We have seen the long overdue refurbishment of the city centre and significant progress on the Community Stadium project.

Under my leadership the council has helped ensure that, despite the unprecedented cuts forced upon us by the Government, no library, swimming pool or children’s centre has closed in York and in particular we have maintained some of the highest performing schools in the country. The same cannot be said at other councils across the country. The job of protecting public services is going to be harder for my successor as further cuts begin to bite.

We have paved the way for the fastest internet connections in the country coming to York and have introduced city centre wi-fi. We built two new park and rides as well as much needed new council homes. As an outcome of York’s Fairness Commission York was the first Yorkshire local authority to pay the Living Wage, helping 900 of our lowest paid staff. We modernised the council by introducing the webcasting of council meetings and the council relocating to West Offices saves £17m over 25 years.   

As Leader it has been an honour to have met so many residents, volunteers, carers, business and community leaders. In particular I have learned a lot from the Community Conversations I have held in every community in York over the last year. Residents have expressed to me their frustration with cuts but also their hopes for the future of York. I am particularly proud that under my leadership York has become a more welcoming place for our LGBT community.

The next Leader of the Labour Group will have my full support. They will be elected again with a strong mandate and an overall majority to run the council in May.

As I leave office I want to thank residents, council staff, senior management and my Labour Party colleagues for their support. I would especially like to thank the residents of Holgate for putting their faith in me, so much so that they re-elected me with the most votes of any Labour councillor at the last local elections. This experience has been humbling. I also want to thank my family for putting up with me during this tumultuous period of my life. My family has helped me learn there is more to life than politics. I often remind myself it isn’t very often that a working class son of a single parent dinner lady, with no political connections, who started work as a temp at the council, becomes Leader.

It is time for me to close this chapter in my life and open up a new one, with a new set of challenges. No longer being Leader will help me gain a better sense of priorities and allow me to pursue other interests whilst I am both young and idealistic enough.

I want to live in a society where a person’s talents and hard work will determine where they get to in life and not the reverse. This is why I am in politics and I have not forgotten this ideal.

 He has tweeted his thanks to people living in the city and staff at York Council for their support saying it's been a "humbling experience".

A new council leader will be elected at it's meeting on 11th December.

OPPONENTS REACT

York Conservative leader Chris Steward has said:


"Like the overwhelming majority of York residents I welcome the news that James Alexander has finally resigned. I wish he had done it long before, but now we must all work together for the good of York rather than the personal attacks and politics of division which have become synonymous with the outgoing leader."

"It is clear people want the council to provide vital services like the bins, adult social care and repairing potholes rather than vanity projects like an arts barge. There have been too many failings of this administration to list and much of the blame goes wider within the Labour Cabinet and there are others who should also resign."

"In his leaving speech the outgoing leader says he took York from a state of stagnation to prosperity, I do not know anyone who agrees with this description of our great city as one that was in stagnation and my view is that as York we must work together to achieve rather than it being down to one person."

"It is time to be able to agree or disagree with Labour politicians on policy rather than have to fight the secrecy and spin of the former leader."

York Lib Dem leader Keith Aspden said:

"It is clear the problems in the York Labour Group go deeper than the leader. From the botched closure of Lendal Bridge to the cuts to basic frontline services the Labour Group collectively has proved itself unfit to run York.

“The policies of the council need to change and this is why Liberal Democrat councillors have been working hard in recent weeks to try to force U-Turns on the plans to close Castlegate and Yearsley Pool.

"Our priority will be to continue to work with all councillors to force the Labour Cabinet to change its policies whoever is leading the Cabinet between now and May. I personally wish James well for his future."

Ken King, the Independent Labour leader, who left York Labour earlier this year said:

"I am saddened the party I love has come to this. James has at last done the honourable thing. however a number of other cabinet members should follow him if they think anything of the Labour Party."

"I did warn the group at my last group meeting that the Leader and Cabinet would fall . The party has to take control of the Labour group."

Minster FM is waiting to hear back from York Green leader Andy D'Agorne.

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