Devon County Council leader John Hart quashes retirement talk

As DCC teeters on the abyss of bankruptcy, 78 years old John Hart, who has been a county councillor for 34 years and its leader for the past 14 years, doesn’t see the need for “fresh ideas or a fresh face”.

It’s not just the Tories in Westminster that are past their sell-by date. – Owl

Ollie Heptinstall 

The leader of Devon County Council says he is not ready to retire after a councillor asked whether it was time for him to step down.

Born in 1945, John Hart was elected to the council in 1989, and took charge at county hall 20 years later when his Conservative group won overall control.

He has remained in the top job ever since.

But speaking at a procedures’ meeting on Tuesday, April 25, in which councillors provisionally agreed a “root and branch” review into “serious failures” of the council’s governance, his future was brought into question.

Independent group leader Frank Biederman told Cllr Hart: “John, you are a tremendous leader. I have a huge amount of respect for what you’ve had to do.

“You’ve been the leader through the most difficult time for local government nationally.”

But he added: “We’ve got a new chief executive. Is it time to give somebody else the opportunity? Fresh ideas, a fresh face … I just question it. I genuinely question it.

“And I don’t do it lightly. I just think you’ve done a tremendous job and I have really got huge respect for you.

“I certainly wouldn’t have wanted the job with the cuts and the scale of the cuts that you’ve had to face.”

In response, Cllr Hart said he isn’t ready to retire: “A time might come. A time might happen, but at the present moment, ironically, I do still quite enjoy the job.

“I will admit equally I never dreamt I was going to be here for the length of time that I have, but the Conservatives seem to be doing something right and the other parties don’t seem to be catching us up yet.

“It will happen, I know that … but at the present moment I’m reasonably comfortable if I put it this way.

“I’m available to talk to any councillor if any councillor wants to talk to me.”

The review into the way the council is run and overseen comes as it admits its internal operation is “very challenging,” with a report citing its failing children’s services and budget pressures.

The council also accepts there is “concern from stakeholders regarding confidence in the council to address these challenges”.

Next month’s full council meeting will be asked to rubber-stamp the review, which will be carried out by a cross-party working group.