YORK Council leader James Alexander is to quit the role next month and will not defend his Holgate ward seat in May’s elections.
Coun Alexander said long hours, grappling with cuts in Government funding for the authority and “personalised politics” had taken their toll.
The move comes after weeks of increasingly bitter politics in York which has seen the ruling Labour group lose its majority following the defection of councillors as well as angry exchanges over the city’s local plan and the trial closure of Lendal Bridge to private cars.
Coun Alexander, who was just 29 when he became council leader in May 2011, will take up a new policy role with the Labour Party nationally.
He said it had been “an honour to lead the city in which I am raising my family.
“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.
“I am proud of what Labour has achieved under my leadership since 2011, to turn a city in stagnation onto the path to prosperity.”
Coun Alexander pointed to the hosting of the Tour de France, attracting businesses such as Hiscox, introducing the living wage for staff and the start of work on the Terry’s site as some of the council’s achievements under his leadership.
He added: “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.”
Hugh Bayley, Labour MP for York Central, said: “James has put his heart and soul into leading the council. I’m very sorry he is going.”
Viv Kind, chairman 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.”
Earlier today, York Conservatives said they would be seeking a motion of no-confidence in Coun Alexander but he had already taken the decision to stand down.
On Twitter tonight, York Conservative group leader Chris Steward wrote:”Whoever the new #York labour leader is I hope they learn lessons from the predecessor and focus on York’s residents rather than their career”.
Liberal Democrat group leader Keith Aspden said: “It is clear the problems in the York Labour Group go deeper than the leader. From the botched closure of Lendal Bridge to the cuts to basic frontline services the Labour Group collectively has proved itself unfit to run York.
“The policies of the council need to change and this is why Liberal Democrat councillors have been working hard in recent weeks to try to force U-Turns on the plans to close Castlegate and Yearsley Pool.
“Our priority will be to continue to work with all councillors to force the Labour Cabinet to change its policies whoever is leading the Cabinet between now and May. I personally wish James well for his future.”