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Sunday, 21 September 2014

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Former Royal Marine calls time on his final mission for Cumbria

He has led Cumbria’s biggest council through £88million of budget cuts, a major review of pay inequalities and last month’s controversial decision that the county should pull out of a project to host an underground nuclear waste store – and all past the age that most people have retired.

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STEPPING DOWN: Cumbria County Council leader Eddie Martin

It’s hardly surprising that county council leader Eddie Martin has decided it is time to hang up his political suits and place his cabinet agendas in the filing cabinet.

The Dearham and Broughton councillor’s unexpected announcement that he did not plan to seek re-election when the current county council term ends in May was met with surprise around the county.

Coun Martin says: “I’ve received an avalanche of letters and emails urging me not to stand down.”

Coun Martin, who lives in Crosby near Maryport with his wife Jeanette, had not planned to announce his intention to retire from politics.

But he said the obvious opportunity arose when, at a scrutiny meeting, he was accused of voting against the nuclear waste store project to save his own skin in the elections rather than for the good of the county.

He says: “It seemed the ideal opportunity to make that statement. Had it not happened it might have been another two or three weeks before I announced it.”

It is, however, a subject he has been discussing with colleagues for about six weeks.

His reasons, he says, are simple. He is a family man who, with the responsibility of leading the council and representing the people of Dearham, Broughton and the surrounding four parishes, does not have time to spend with his family.

He says: “I’m an old man. I have got four of the most beautiful grandchildren in the world who I don’t see enough of and I’m tired.

“I have done 26 years in local government as a councillor or officer. I think I have done enough.

“Sometimes you have got to hand the reins over to younger people with new ideas.”

With a background as a Royal Marine, he was working at the private Oakham School in Rutland, where he started as head of economics and business management in 1978, when he began his foray into the world of politics.

He was elected as a councillor in 1986 and was instrumental in the creation of Rutland County Council – a unitary authority which made Rutland independent of Leicestershire.

In 2000, having become resident housemaster at Oakham, he retired to Cumbria just as foot and mouth disease was sweeping the country.

He says: “I wanted the fells and my wife wanted the sea, so we compromised.

“I came to Cumbria, did gardening for three weeks and got thoroughly bored.

“I spent six weeks working with Defra on foot and mouth. Then a post came up at Cumbria County Council as a research assistant.

“I took the job and it was quickly transformed into a leadership support officer or political advisor for the Conservative Party.”

Again he took retirement before being persuaded to return to the role for a year.

When he eventually stepped down he was asked if he would consider standing for election.

He was elected for the Broughton and Dearham division in May 2009 and says he has thoroughly enjoyed working with people in the area.

Less than a year later he was elected to lead the council following the death of Councillor Jim Buchanan.

Asked to list the council’s main achievements since then, he talks about settling the single status review, which saw thousands of employees’ salaries changed to better reflect their levels of work, improving the fire service with new stations and engines, and moving from a contracted highways service to employing the staff in-house.

All the changes have been part of a project to make the council more efficient and less costly.

He says: “Most members of the public won’t notice the changes but we are delivering services across the board much more efficiently and effectively than we did four years ago.

“I am quite proud that we have not increased the council tax for three years.

“When food prices, fuel prices and everything else is taking its toll on people’s pockets, anything we can do to keep down the council tax makes sense.”

But he is adamant that the council’s achievements are not down to him.

He says: “We have got 9,000 excellent people working for the county council and I don’t think they get the credit they deserve.

“We have also got a team of politicians.”

His experience in Rutland has given him a firm view on the benefits of unitary authorities – single councils responsible for all services usually provided by district and county councils.

He says: “Small is beautiful. I’m a passionate believer that Cumbria should be broken up into unitary authorities.

“We could save millions of pounds. There are nine authorities and 384 district and county councillors running Cumbria at the moment. Birmingham has 12 times the number of people and half the councillors. It’s economic madness.”

But the chances of him standing again to lead the county through such changes are minimal.

He says: “It would take a cataclysmic volcano to get me to change my mind.

“I’m so old that Methuselah isn’t as old as I am.”

He says he is not abandoning the people of West Cumbria, though.

He says: “I’m willing to help anybody at any time.

“If I retire, how long can I do gardening before I get fed up with it, and then what mischief am I going to get into?”

Have your say

Well said Barry,We need a statue of Eddie put up in Ennerdale bridge , All the best Mr Martin , You will be missed.

Posted by Steve on 8 March 2013 at 12:10

Mission acomplished - nothing has happened in Cumbria in the last 4 years. Lots of problems in store for whoever takes over in May through indecision and dithering.

Posted by John on 6 March 2013 at 08:50

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