The council’s Labour Leader, Coun. James Alexander, is standing down as both Council Leader and Leader of the Labour Group. He will be taking up a new role with the national Labour Party as Policy Officer for Communities - supporting Ed Miliband and Shadow Ministers into the general election, overseeing policy areas including transport, local government, housing, culture, media and sport.
Coun. Alexander will continue to serve Holgate residents until the local elections in May, but will not be seeking re-election.
A full statement from Coun. Alexander is given below.
Viv Kind, Chair of York Labour Party said:
“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.”
Hugh Bayley, Member of Parliament for York Central:
“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.”
Hilary Benn MP, Shadow Minister for Local Government said:
“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.”
John Grogan, Former Member of Parliament for Selby said:
“I always think it is not how long you hold public office which counts, but what you do with it when you have the privilege of doing so. In less than four years James has provided exceptional leadership which has meant that many councils throughout the land have copied policies piloted in York. The council’s agenda attracting jobs and investment and combating poverty has been particularly impressive.”
David Sparks, Chair of the Local Government Association said:
“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.”
Roger Marsh, Chair of Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership said:
“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. Since becoming Chair of the LEP I have enjoyed building a strong working relationship with James. 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. I wish him every success in the future.”
Bill Adams, Regional Secretary Trades Union Congress said:
“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. In the time James has been leader he has made a real difference to people’s lives and we are very sorry to see him go.”
Coun. James Alexander will remain as Leader of the Labour Group until a successor is chosen by fellow Labour councillors. He will remain as Leader of the Council until a successor is elected at the meeting of Full Council on 11th December.
Personal Statement from James Alexander
"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. 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.
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.
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, helping 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.
As Leader it has been an honour to have met so many residents, volunteers, carers, business 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. They 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. This experience has been humbling. I also want to thank my family for putting up with me during this tumultuous period of my life. My family has helped me learn 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."