York council leader quits: James Alexander leaves for London job

19 Nov 2014 @ 9.38 pm
| News, Politics


  New role helping Ed Miliband

  Proud of achievements but job takes toll

  ‘He put his heart and soul into council’ – MP

Leaving York: council leader James Alexander

City of York Council leader Cllr James Alexander is quitting the leadership – and York.

He announced his plan to stand down as both council leader and leader of the council’s Labour Group on Wednesday evening (November 19).

Cllr Alexander will take up a new role with the national Labour Party as policy officer for communities.

That job will support Opposition leader Ed Miliband and shadow ministers into the general election, overseeing policy areas including transport, local government, housing, culture, media and sport.

Cllr Alexander, 32, will continue to serve Holgate residents until the local elections in May, but will not be seeking re-election.

He will remain as leader of the council until his successor is elected at the meeting of full council on 11th December. The city Labour Party will elect a new leader soon, and Cllr Alexander will stay in post till then.

“I am proud of what Labour has achieved under my leadership since 2011, to turn a city in stagnation on to the path to prosperity,” he said.

“But the long hours, pressure of grappling with government cuts and personalised politics has taken its toll on me and my family.”

His full personal statement is below.

The reaction

“I congratulate James on his new role which gives York greater influence over national Labour Party policy. We know he will continue to have York’s best interests at heart in his new job.

“During his five years as Leader of the Labour Group and four years as Labour Council Leader James has used his vision and challenge to maintain key services and deliver economic growth for York despite massive reductions in government funding.

“York Labour Party thanks him for his commitment and hard work and wishes him well in his new role.”

Viv Kind, chair of York Labour Party

“James has put his heart and soul into leading the council. I’m very sorry he is going.

“During his time as leader the council has had to implement massive budget cuts imposed by the Government, but the council has still managed to bring investment and many new jobs to the city”

Hugh Bayley, York Central MP

“James has been a great representative of Labour values throughout his time as a councillor and as Leader of the Council, and I want to thank him for working so tirelessly on behalf of the people of York”

Hilary Benn MP, Shadow Minister for Local Government

“It is good news for the Labour Party that James is bringing his experience to this new role. He has done an excellent job in York and as Chair of LGA I look forward to working with James more closely”

David Sparks, chair of the Local Government Association

“Councillor Alexander has been an asset to the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and a colleague that has always brought a challenging yet constructive dynamic as a board member.

“In particular I am grateful to him for his support in developing the Strategic Economic Plan, which secured recently the largest sum of devolved funding to any LEP area in the country.”

Roger Marsh, chair of Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership

“James Alexander has led a Labour Group and council that has built a reputation for progressive and practical solutions in a very challenging time for local government.

“He has shown real commitment to developing the economy of the city while ensuring it became the first council in Yorkshire to pay a living wage, which is groundbreaking.”

Bill Adams, regional secretary, TUC

Personal statement from James Alexander

James Alexander puts the finishing touches to his Mansion House speech. Photograph: James Alexander on Twitter
‘I cannot fully commit to another four years’

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.

A life in politics

First stood May 2003 – Huntington and New Earswick Ward (Lib Dem hold)
First elected May 2007 – Holgate Ward (Lab gain from Lib Dem)
Re-elected May 2011 – Holgate Ward
General election May 2010 – Stood for Parliament in new York Outer constituency, Conservatives win
Labour Group Leader May 2010 – Aged 28, elected in place of Cllr David Scott
Council leader May 2011 – Led Labour to victory (aged 29)
Dec 2014 – steps down to take up national role

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.

‘Proud of what I have achieved’

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.

I also want to publicly thank my family for putting up with me during this tumultuous period of my life. My family has helped me learn that there is more to life than politics

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, supporting 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.

‘Learned a lot’

As leader it has been an honour to have met so many residents, volunteers, carers, businesses 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. I’m confident Labour 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.

The experience has been humbling.

‘More to life than politics’

I also want to publicly thank my family for putting up with me during this tumultuous period of my life. My family has helped me learn that 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.