Suffolk: Leader Jeremy Pembroke quits county council

SUFFOLK: The search is today underway for a new leader for the county council after Jeremy Pembroke announced his retirement.

Mr Pembroke’s departure was announced yesterday – the day after the council revealed director Graham Dixon was departing along with monitoring officer Eric Whitfield.

A former director of Hambros merchant bank, Mr Pembroke has been a Conservative member of the county council for 10 years and has been leader of the authority for six.

He came under fire for offering chief executive Andrea Hill her �218,000 salary when she was appointed three years ago and the pressure has been growing in recent months as government cuts and the council’s pursuit of the “New Strategic Direction” lead to increasing public anger.

Over recent weeks this has boiled with the backlash of revelations about the �12,000 cost of training sessions for Mrs Hill and a �1,400 bill for photographs.

At one stage a communications officer said he and his colleagues would not answer any of Paul Geater’s queries, although Mr Pembroke and others said this had not been council policy.

The leader was also not able to answer questions we asked about this and other issues of council policy.

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Now he has decided to retire from politics – he will step down from the council altogether at the next elections in two years’ time.

Mr Pembroke said: “It has been a great honour to serve as the leader of Suffolk County Council. As I have said many times, I am passionate about Suffolk and the people who live here.

“I feel this is the right time for me to step down to give the next leader enough time to prepare for the elections in 2013.

“I have the utmost confidence in my cabinet and the officers who work so hard for Suffolk County Council. I would like to thank the people of Suffolk for their support over the last 10 years.”

Deputy leader Jane Storey, who takes over today as interim leader until the council holds its annual meeting next month, said: “I am very sorry that Jeremy is retiring as leader.

“He is one of the most honourable people I have ever known. He will be much missed.”

Mrs Hill said: “It has been a pleasure to work for, and with, Jeremy. His leadership, passion and commitment have led to huge improvements at Suffolk County Council. More than that – his integrity and honesty have made the council a better place.”

His political opponents spoke of his personal decency – even though they disagreed with the policies his council had adopted.

Opposition leader Kathy Pollard said: “I am not really surprised at the news. It was clear that he was under a great deal of pressure and frankly someone like Jeremy does not need that kind of pressure.

Labour leader Sandy Martin said: “I think he is a thoroughly decent chap but I do not think that he or his political colleagues had the proper level of control over the administration and I think whoever comes in needs to address that.”

Mr Pembroke’s departure leaves cabinet member Colin Noble as the red-hot favourite to succeed him as leader – although Mrs Storey and possibly Felixstowe councillor Graham Newman could also throw their hats into the ring.