Nottinghamshire County Council leader Kay Cutts issues statement on her future after staving off rival in leadership contest
The leader of Nottinghamshire County Council has said in a statement announcing her retirement from politics she hopes future generations can look forward to local government that is simpler, better value and more sustainable.
Kay Cutts had stunned Conservative members in her Radcliffe seat at the weekend by delivering a speech to be re-selected as the candidate for the ward in the May, 2021, elections only to then do a u-turn and say she didn't want to stand again.
She will, however, stay on as leader until the elections.
Today, the day that she staved off a leadership contest, Mrs Cutts said: “I am retiring from politics after 32 proud years serving my community and the people of Nottinghamshire.
"This decision has been solely mine is for entirely personal reasons.
"It is the right thing for me, the right thing for my family and the right thing for this council.
"I offer my best wishes to my successor.
“This is an ambitious council and I am honoured in the meantime, to have been selected by my group to continue to serve as its leader until the end of this administrative term.
"I will not be contesting my seat or stand for the position of leader after my term has ended.
"Until that time I will continue to lead this council to deliver against our promises to the people of Nottinghamshire as laid out in my group’s manifesto.
“My focus and that of my fellow members and officers is to continue to draw down investment to fulfil those commitments; to make sure families can access an excellent education for their children in good quality schools, to attract new jobs, to boost skills in youngpeople and to continue with our programme of investment and works to improve our county’s highways.
"We are also committed to supporting those in our care who need us the most and to helping people with disabilities to get the support they need to lead independent lives.
“These are the things that truly matter to our communities and it is the reason they pay their taxes to this council.
"Of course, the immediate priority is to make sure that we support Nottinghamshire through the covid-19 crisis, to walk the incredibly delicate line between support of our businesses and keeping our communities safe."
Mrs Cutts was pushing for a move to unitary authority, which would have seen the county council and the seven district and borough councils all abolished in favour of one new authority.
Her plans failed to be included in the first tranche of areas invited by government to submit formal reorganisation proposals because of opposition from the seven borough and districts and the city council and because of their timing amid a pandemic.
In a seeming nod to those plans, she said: "All this needs to be achieved against a backdrop of a challenging financial position.
“As I look to the future, I maintain hope that our future generations can look forward to local government that is simpler, better value and more sustainable. This is more important than individuals or politics and would be quite simply, the right thing for the future of Nottinghamshire.”
A challenger to the crown emerged in Neil Clarke, who represents Bingham West on the county council. However, he failed to garner enough support in a ballot of county council Conservative group members at today's annual meeting, which was held in private.
The Advertiser understands unitary proposals could now feature again on county council agendas as early as December.
We have seen letters sent to Mrs Cutts and Conservative councillors by Newark MP Robert Jenrick, as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, Luke Hall.
Mr Hall leaves the door open when he wrote: “I know in Nottinghamshire you have been discussing and are making considerable progress on developing proposals for unitary local government across the county.
“Such reforms could enable you to better serve your local people and businesses, to address the challenges of today, including on housing, climate change, and those arising from the pandemic, and to contribute more effectively to our agenda for levelling up opportunity and prosperity across the country.
“We in government are ready to work with you, helping you to achieve your ambitions for reform.
“You may be aware that the Secretary of State has now issued formal invitations to councils in Cumbria, Somerset and North Yorkshire, including the associated unitary councils, to submit proposals for unitary local government.
“Whilst I recognise you have also asked for an invitation, the pandemic has rightly necessitated resources across Whitehall and in local government being re-allocated to tackling covid-19 and on economic recovery, and this must be Whitehall’s and town halls’ number one priority at present.
“I know this will be disappointing. However, I would value an opportunity now to see how your vision for the future of local government in Nottinghamshire is developing and the ideas you have for future unitary structures.
“If you wish, I would be happy for you to send me the business plan and proposals you are developing including the evidence you have about the level of local support. I will be interested to consider this material, which will help me develop my thinking for the future.
“Finally, I would stress this is not a formal invitation kick-starting the process of unitarisation. If and when the Secretary of State were to issue an invitation to Nottinghamshire councils, it would then be for each council to decide whether to submit a unitary proposal, and if so what form that should take.”
Mr Jenrick wrote: “Localism and devolution are at the heart of this government’s levelling up agenda.
“Locally-led changes to the structure of local government, whether in the form of unitarisation or district mergers, can be an appropriate means of improving local service delivery, saving taxpayers’ money and improving local accountability.
“It is important those seeking to pursue locally-led proposals can demonstrate there is broad local support for reform.
“It is important to note unitary structures are not and will not be compulsory or required by central government. The clear rationale for this approach is that experience shows that any reform of an area’s local government is most effectively achieved through proposals put forward by those who best know the area.
“The three areas I have issued formal invitations to have been considering reform for some time, and have broad local support.
“I am aware there are other areas beyond the three I have announced where councils have been discussing ideas about unitary reform. However, given the pressures councils face this winter with the pandemic, I believe it would not be right at this time for them to further progress or focus on ideas for reform.
“We will publish a Devolution White Paper in due course. As we look ahead to next May’s local elections, what matters most to voters is the quality and responsiveness of local services, the protection of local amenity, and the level of local taxes.
“Conservative councils have a great record, and are at the forefront of championing local communities during this pandemic. Councillors who campaign and engage with the public are ones who are most likely to get re-elected, and given the scale of the challenges local councils are confronting, this should be our primary focus.”