All change at Leeds City Council as new Lord Mayor is sworn in...and cabinet reshuffle throws up some surprises
It was all change in the Leeds Civic Hall chamber last night, as new Lord Mayor Gerry Harper took over the chains of office - and a cabinet reshuffle tipped the gender balance of the council's top table.
In a warm and witty maiden speech, Councillor Harper - a Labour ward member for Hyde Park and Woodhouse - thanked his late mum Alice, an Irish immigrant and mum of nine who moved to Leeds with her brood to start a new life when he was just a small child.
A lifelong Leeds Utd fan, Coun Harper joked that he would like to bring some luck for Leeds United in his mayoral year.
And he told the packed chamber and public gallery that he was looking forward to many events, singling out the city’s centenary commemorations for the Battle of the Somme later this year.
Taking over the role from the previous incumbent Judith Chapman, Coun Harper is the 123rd person to hold the prestigious office.
Born in Belfast, he moved with his family to the Harehills area of Leeds in 1967, and currently lives in Otley.
He began his working life in the city’s historic Leeds Kirkgate Market, before taking positions at Montague Burton in Leeds and Archbold Storage Ltd, Gildersome.
In 1978 he trained as a central heating surveyor at British Gas in Wortley, and remained in the job until he was elected as a Labour councillor in the then University ward of the city in 1994.
Councillor Harper said: “It is an unbelievable honour and privilege to be elected as the new Lord Mayor of Leeds.
“Having arrived in Leeds from Belfast with my family as a young boy, I never imagined that one day I would have the opportunity to represent our truly amazing city in such a way.
“Both I and the Lady Mayoress cannot wait for our engagements to start so we can begin to meet the fantastic people of our city.”
Council leader Judith Blake said Coun Harper had been a “great servant already for Leeds public life” during two stints as a councillor and wished him luck over the busy coming months.
She said he had been a “champion for Kirkgate market”, where he had his first job aged just 14 and is currently chair of the board.
She added he had “always been a fearless, tireless and passionate campaigner, always standing up for Leeds as a whole.”
Father of three Coun Harper will be joined by his partner Lynne Scholes as his consort.
His chosen Mayoral charities will be Epilepsy Action and Yorkshire Heart Research, the former being especially close to his heart as he suffers from epilepsy himself.
Meanwhile new cabinet arrangements for the coming year were also rubber-stamped last night, and there were a few surprises.
The biggest change saw long-serving environment and community safety portfolio holder Coun Mark Dobson losing his place on the executive board.
His brief will now be taken over by deputy leader Lucinda Yeadon - who retains her number two role alongside co-deputy James Lewis.
Cabinet newcomer Rebecca Charlwood - formerly Labour’s chief whip - is named executive member for health, wellbeing and adults, while Lisa Mulherin, the previous holder of that portfolio, moves into the Children and Families role.
The other cabinet positions remain as they were, but it means that of the eight positions at Leeds City Council’s top table, five are now occupied by women.