JUDITH Blake is set to become the first female leader of Leeds City Council after becoming Labour group leader.
Labour retained their large majority in last week’s council elections with Coun Blake being comfortably returned to the Middleton Park ward.
Before the election Coun Keith Wakefield had announced his plan to stand down as both Leeds City Council and the Labour group leader.
This evening Coun Blake was named as the new Labour group leader with Couns Lucinda Yeadon and James Lewis as her deputies.
Coun Blake has served as both the council’s deputy leader and the executive member for Children’s Services. She said: “I feel honoured to be the first woman to become council leader and to be able to take over from the leadership of Keith Wakefield. We have already begun to articulate our enormous ambition for the City of Leeds and its people.”
She said working with a majority Conservative Government would be a challenge but one which the authority was ready for. And she said securing more devolved powers from Whitehall would be one of her key priorities. She will be formally declared leader at a council meeting but this is a formality given the size of the Labour group’s majority in Leeds.
In recent years she has been at the forefront of a national legal campaign which tried but failed to get pupils’ work regraded after exam boards moved grade boundaries during the middle of the year. She has also been the lead member in Yorkshire for a plan bringing together the 15 education authorities across the region to raise school standards.
Most recently she has been dealing with the fallout from a places crisis in North Leeds after more than 80 parents were allocated places at primaries they had not chosen despite all choosing to go to their nearest primary schools.
Coun Wakefield became leader of the Labour group in 2003, serving as council leader until 2004 when his party lost power to a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition.
He remained Labour group leader in opposition and regained the role of council leader when the party returned to power after the 2010 elections.
Coun Wakefield has led the council through one of its most difficult periods as the authority has had to cope with huge reductions in funding from central government, forcing it to cut large numbers of jobs and radically change the way it provides services.