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Gloucestershire Business News

Gloucester City Council leader Richard Cook to step down

Councillor Richard Cook, the Conservative leader of Gloucester City Council, is to step down at the May elections due to ill health.

Seventy-year-old Cllr Cook, who has represented Kingsway ward since 2016, announced his decision at last night's council meeting.

Cllr Cook took over as council leader in November 2019, replacing Cllr Paul James.

Cllr Cook told Punchline-Gloucester.com: "I can't do the job effectively and I've got a lot more health issues to contend with and it means I'm being carried by others which I don't think I should be. I think it's time to say enough is enough.

"I've been suffering badly from fatigue whereas I used to be out and about doing stuff all the time, nowadays it's much more difficult. Come the weekends, whereas I used to go out and do door knocking and leaflet deliveries, I'm struggling with that. I'm barely able to walk at the moment but I might do some phone canvassing."

Cllr Cook said his party colleagues had said they didn't want him to go because they felt he had been a good leader.

He added: "It's been a tremendously difficult time if you look back at some of the things that have happened while I have been leader. The worst of all was Covid and the disruption that created to everything we did.

Watch Cllr Cook narrate the recent 'Gloucester is changing' video:

"We had just gone out of Covid lockdowns and we thought that's all behind us and then we had the cyber attack when we lost access to all our data. That caused a tremendous amount of difficulty because we had to try to provide services to residents without access to our computer systems. It probably took a year to get over that.

"Then even more recently was the collapse of our leisure services provider Aspire at 48 hours notice. They had led us to believe that they'd do an additional year, they'd asked for more money and then 48 hours before they said we're going to close. That was a huge amount of work for officers and members to get services back up and running again. We got in Freedom Leisure and most of our services were restored in a very quick time, about six weeks."

Despite all the challenges that had been faced, which also included the ongoing cost of living crisis and local flooding issues, Cllr Cook said there was much to be proud of.

He added: "There's lots going on. Throughout that period we carried on with regeneration in the city centre with The Forum development which will be open later this year. We've got more housing to go into that site.

"Then, of course, there's the University taking over the former Debenhams building. They should have their first intake of students at that site early next year.

"There's another £11 million coming in Levelling Up funding which will be used in the Greyfriars area. I'm quite proud of all the things that have taken place while I've been leader, despite the fact that we've suffered difficulties.

"I'm really proud that we've been active, we've done stuff and we've maintained services when it's been almost impossible to do so."

Cllr Cook said he had enjoyed some of his time in office, but not all.

"Some of the issues that you deal with when you are a politician are deliberate nastiness by others which I don't appreciate. I've gone into this job not to be a politician but to do a job and I think I've done that job very well, but there will still be people who will point at me and say 'he's a bully, he's awkward, he's nasty, he's horrible'. I'm none of those things "

Looking ahead to the upcoming local elections on May 2, Cllr Cook said: "I don't want to be negative about our chances but with what's happened at Westminster over recent years, people with a blue badge are less electable at the moment. 

"But on the doorsteps people are still thinking quite well of the Conservatives. They look around the city and see improvements that continue to be made, but whether that will convert to going out to the polling station is a worry we all have.".

Mark Owen, editor of Punchline-Gloucester.com, said: "It's a real blow to the city that Richard is stepping down as he has done an amazing job. From the very beginning, he didn't really want to take the job as leader of the council on when Cllr James stood down. 

"Since then he's had to deal with Covid, the cost of living crisis, the cyber attack, housing shortages, budget restraints and the war in Ukraine. He's had a really tough four-and-a-half years.

"At the same time he's presided over real growth and regeneration of the city centre. He doesn't like the spotlight, he doesn't have social media accounts, he's got his head down and just got on with the job.

"It's been a remarkable journey he's been on for a very unassuming type of chap. It's the epitome of a really good local councillor who has given it his all and will be sorely missed by everyone in the city.

"People are very quick to damn their local councillors and give them a kicking. The amount of work and effort and the unpaid hours they pour into the community is breathtaking. Across all political parties you get your good and bad councillors but Richard Cook is without a shadow of a doubt on the very good side.

"Punchline would like to take this opportunity to thank him on behalf of the business community and the residents for doing a tremendous job during a difficult period. We wish him all the best."

Read more: Gloucester power vacuum as nine councillors depart 

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