One of the country’s most prominent Conservative-run local authorities is to have a new leader, following the decision of Richard Cornelius to step down from the helm of Barnet Council.
Cornelius, who has led Barnet since 2011, is expected to relinquish his post in advance of the council’s annual general meeting on 21 May. He was first elected to the council in 2006, and has represented Totteridge ward ever since. He will continue working as a councillor.
His likely successor as leader is the council’s current deputy leader Dan Thomas, who is a councillor for Finchley Church End ward. Thomas has already stepped up to become leader of the Conservative Group.
In a statement, Cornelius said he has “loved being leader of the council, but the time has come for someone else to have a turn”. He added that he has “enjoyed the challenge of making the money go further” and that despite this entailing some “difficult decisions” he thinks “the borough is now in a better place”.
Barnet kept its general council tax frozen for a nine year period while at the same time keeping resident satisfactions high, Cornelius said. He also expressed satisfaction with the council’s progress in children’s services and with housing developments underway in Stonegrove, Colindale and Dollis Valley.
Barnet became a flagship Tory borough from 2009 when under its then leader Mike Freer, now the MP for Finchley & Golders Green, introduced a radical, “no frills” approach to council finances and service provision, saying this would cut costs and give residents more choice. However, its ground breaking outsourcing arrangement with Capita has come under review and some services are being brought back in house.
Demographic change and concerns about the approach of the so-called “easy Council” have contributed to Barnet becoming a Labour target in both the 2014 and 2018 borough elections, but the Tories have maintained their hold on power and strengthened their position last year amid disquiet among the borough’s substantial Jewish population over the rise of antisemitism in Labour’s membership under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. Only in Haringey did Labour lose more London seats.
Barry Rawlings, leader of the opposition Labour Group, said he wished Cornelius and his family well for the future. He added: “I know he is saddened by the way the party he has devoted much of his life to is falling apart at the seams and this may well have influenced his decision.”
Another member of the opposition Labour Group characterises Thomas, who has been Cornelius’s deputy throughout his leadership, as “more abrasive” than Cornelius and eager to make an impact, perhaps through “some changes and gimmicks” if he becomes leader.
In 2011, an in-house presentation of the council’s “One Barnet” transformation programme included what became known as the “graph of doom”, which projected that without major corrective action, the council would be unable to meet the cost of anything other than adult social care and children’s services. Thomas discussed the “graph of doom” on the BBC Daily Politics in April 2014.
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This piece was last updated at 16:10 on 9 May, 2019.