Thursday, 26 November 2015

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Cumbria County Council leader tells why he's stepping down

Eddie Martin says his biggest achievement as Cumbria County Council’s leader is protecting frontline service in the face of stinging spending cuts.

Eddie Martin photo
Eddie Martin

The outspoken Conservative revealed this week that he intends to step down as the authority’s political head at May’s elections.

He has denied suggestions it was a move influenced by his ruling cabinet’s decision to pull Cumbria out of the running to house a massive underground nuclear store, saying he simply felt the time was right for him to leave local politics.

Mr Martin said he had been thinking about not recontesting his seat for some time because he wants to spend more time with his family.

His decision not to seek re-election was revealed as the nuclear store decision was scrutinised by a council panel.

Speaking afterwards, he told The Cumberland News: “At the moment the intention is that I will not seek re-election. I’d been talking to colleagues for about six weeks about the probability of my not seeking re-election. It’s a big decision for me to make because I shall miss a lot of friends.

“I am 72 and I have four of the most beautiful grandchildren. I want to spend more time with my family. But my wife is concerned how I will fill my days without the council.”

He added that his grandchildren had moved to the Midlands and he hoped he would have more time to visit them. He said: “My family are a couple of hundred miles away from me.”

Mr Martin said that there had been a lot of pressure on him to stand for re-election and his decision had not been influenced by the recent Managing Radioactive Waste Safely debate.

The fall-out from the decision to opt out of the process to host an underground nuclear waste storage site led to the resignation of councillor Tim Knowles, who was the cabinet member responsible for the nuclear industry, as well as the vote being called in for scrutiny.

Members of county council’s Economy and Environment Scrutiny Advisory Board gave their unanimous backing to the cabinet decision on Tuesday.

Mr Martin said that the original decision had been “endorsed”, adding: “It was, in many ways, good for democracy that it was called in.”

He added that it was subjected to a rigorous debate which had increased the credibility of the original decision.”

The leader added that there was a misconception that the Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) would have created thousands of jobs – but Government investment, such as safe surface storage at the Sellafield site, would have led to better job security for workers.

He said that he had carried out a lot of research into the issue – as he did with any decision.

“I don’t undertake things lightly,” he said. “You need facts and figures. That drives me on – to do the research instead of shooting from the hip.”

Mr Martin said that the research took up a lot of his spare time, including weekends.

He added: “I am tired. I am not making excuses. There’s only so much you can do.”

He added that he wanted to continue helping community organisations and voluntary groups wherever he could.

“If I can help within the community I will do so,” he said.

Originally a schoolmaster in the Midlands, Mr Martin was asked to stand for a district council and has spent 26 years in local government.

He said: “It was a very small district council. I stood and got elected to Rutland Council.

“Shortly afterwards we thought Rutland should be independent of Leicestershire. After five years we achieved it. Rutland is a unitary authority with more responsibility than Cumbria.”

Rutland has a population of 35,000 people and according to Mr Martin, who was its first leader, it is doing “extremely well”.

In 2000 he retired and chose to relocate to Cumbria and soon found that he missed local government. “After three weeks of gardening I joined the county council – not as a councillor but as an officer,” he said.

He eventually stood for election in 2009 and was successful. He was asked to become leader following the death of Aspatria’s Jim Buchanan the following year.

And he said since then he is proud of what they have achieved, adding: “I think we do extremely well as a county council. Our employees are fantastic and perhaps they don’t get enough recognition.”

In recent years the authority has come under increasing pressure to identify £88m in cuts and Mr Martin said that the biggest achievement was that frontline services had not yet been affected.

He said: “I expect the majority of people in Cumbria don’t even know where we’ve found £88m in savings. We’ve done that without touching frontline services. We do have another £50m to find and I’ve no doubt the council will do it.”

Meanwhile, the county council’s deputy leader – Carlisle Labour councillor Stewart Young – has said he will not step down as the fallout from the nuclear store decision continues.

But he has said he would probably have gone had the cabinet decided to move to the next stage of the search to find possible repository sites. Copeland Council leader and fellow Labour politician Elaine Woodburn has called on Mr Young to quit.

But he said: “I have no plans to stand down. My future lies in the hands of the electorate in May.”


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