Deputy leader to stand for top job on county council

Essex County Council’s deputy leader has confirmed he will be standing for the Tories’ top spot .

Cllr Kevin Bentley will be one of the favourites to take over from current leader David Finch who has announced he will not be standing for re-election at this year’s county council elections on May 6.

Cllr Bentley, who will submit his application along with other candidates for the top job after the elections will be asked to argue his case when the Tory group meets to decide its new leader at its AGM in the week starting May 10.

He said: “I have been deputy leader and I will be standing.”

Asked his views on whether the council should be looking to a woman or BAME candidate, he said: “I think it is about the person for the job.

“I am very much in favour of having more female councillors and more female leaders.

“And those from other ethnic minorities as well.

“We need to encourage that.

“But whoever becomes leader has the job at that time.

“That is what the group will be looking for.

“We are coming out of period from COVID so it is about how a new leader can ensure Essex is at the forefront of that recovery.”

The task facing a new leader in the coming years is considerable – faced not just with the financial hangover from COVID and the health implications that have followed, the council is also facing hefty reorganisation as part of Government’s plans to streamline local government.

Early indications suggest that ministers are seeking to abolish district and county councils to be replaced with unitary councils with a minimum population of 300,000 and an expected ceiling of 650,000.

The task of reorganising Essex, with a population of 2 million, with two unitary authorities, and 12 districts is among the areas that faces the greatest change.

Already Basildon and Thurrock have started work towards a potential merger in the face of what central Government may eventually decide it wants local government to look like.

This could include the creation of a new unitary authority for the area, one which provides all of the local government services for residents in Basildon and Thurrock, something Thurrock has enjoyed since 1998.

Leader of Basildon Council, Gavin Callaghan, said: “The government has made clear that two-tier local government has had its day and unitary authorities are the direction of travel.

“Reform is inevitable. We can’t let the government or Essex County Council decide on our future.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter