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16 April 2013
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles MP is leading the tributes to Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell who has announced today (Tuesday 16 April) that he is to step down as Leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.Elected Leader in 2000, Sir Merrick's record of success at the Royal Borough has helped establish him as a leading figure in UK local government. From 2006 to 2010 he was Chairman of London Councils, the representative body for the Capital's 32 local authorities. And in 2011, he was chosen by other council leaders to head up the Local Government Association, the national voice for England's councils.He was knighted for services to local government in 2010."I have worked with Sir Merrick for many years and he is a true public servant and local champion," said Eric Pickles. "Under his leadership the Council has achieved some incredible things for the residents of Kensington and Chelsea. The Tri-borough initiative he helped spearhead is a shining example of shared services savings to all in local government."Sir Merrick has led Kensington and Chelsea during a period in which it has been repeatedly recognised as one of Britain's best performing local authorities. It has consistently achieved some of the highest resident approval ratings in the Capital while its residents have enjoyed one of the lowest council taxes in the country.As Leader he was the driving force behind the ambitious `Renewing the Legacy' programme, the largest building programme in Kensington and Chelsea since the post war slum clearances.He personally led the long campaign for a new secondary school in Chelsea which, in 2010, delivered the Chelsea Academy. The school won the Public Building of the Year Award in 2011 and is already rated as "outstanding" by Ofsted. He was also closely involved in the project to rebuild Holland Park School. Pupils took up occupation of their new school at the end of 2012. From the outset the Council set out to build them a school to "match the very best in the country." The scheme was funded by a private land deal so profitable that it also paid for two affordable housing schemes and contributed significantly to the costs of the new academy for North Kensington currently under construction.Amongst a number of other public realm projects, Sir Merrick led the team responsible for the multi-award winning Exhibition Road streetscape scheme. An early test of his leadership was the shock discovery that the Home Office had placed Kensington and Chelsea on a list of the 20 areas most affected by crack. Dens were springing up in the Royal Borough almost weekly and the authorities appeared impotent to deal with the crisis. Sir Merrick was one of the principal architects of the 2002 `crack house protocol', a then unique and highly controversial commitment to close crack houses and evict the tenants within six weeks of the crack trade being confirmed as active at the premises. He also authorised the Council's pioneering use of `S222 injunctions' to ban dealers from the borough. A series of evictions and injunctions swiftly followed and the crack den crisis eased.In more recent years he has helped design the Council's response to the financial crisis and the consequent dramatic falls in Government funding. A key element of that response is the influential `Tri-Borough initiative', a radical back office and service sharing arrangement with Westminster and Hammersmith & Fulham that will yield at least £10 million worth of savings to the Council by 2015."It's been my good fortune to work alongside an unusually talented and dedicated group of councillors and officers," said Sir Merrick. "Together I think we have done a good job for our residents. Our services have been excellent, our taxes low. And in the days when there was a lot more money around we didn't squander it, but used it wisely to build for the future. "It's a record we can be very proud of." A new leader will be elected by the Council on 22 May 2013. Sir Merrick intends to remain as Chairman of the LGA for a further year and to continue to serve the people of Stanley Ward as one of their elected representatives on the Council. In addition the Mayor of London Boris Johnson has recently appointed him to the deputy chairmanship of the London Pensions Fund Authority.
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