Next council leader ‘immensely proud’ to lead Leeds

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Leeds City Council’s next leader has said he was “immensely proud” to have the opportunity to lead the local authority.

Coun James Lewis, who has held the post of deputy leader at the council since 2015, was selected by Labour councillors as the group’s “leader elect” at an online meeting on Friday.

As Labour has a majority of members on the council, this effectively makes Coun Lewis the leader-elect of Leeds City Council, and he will almost certainly be chosen as leader at a future full meeting of Leeds City Council.

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However, as it is still unclear as to when the authority’s current leader Coun Judith Blake will take up her peerage in the House of Lords, a date has yet to be set for Coun Lewis’s elevation to the top job at Leeds City Council.

Coun James Lewis is set to take charge of the council in the coming months.Coun James Lewis is set to take charge of the council in the coming months.
Coun James Lewis is set to take charge of the council in the coming months.

Speaking at the weekend, Coun Lewis said: “I am immensely proud to have been chosen by my Labour Group colleagues as their new leader elect.

“My initial focus as Leader will be the COVID-19 pandemic and leading the council’s response to the horrendous public health and economic impact it has had on our city.

“I will do everything I can to ensure an economic recovery for Leeds that places tackling poverty and inequalities, as well as ensuring opportunity for all, at its core.”

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Coun Lewis certainly has a job to do, as the authority’s finances – already in a fragile state – have been decimated by lost income and increased costs due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The authority is expected to make £118m of cuts to its 2021/22 budget in order to balance the books – the largest single-year percentage cut in the authority’s history.

As such, the leader of the council’s opposition Conservatives group Coun Andrew Carter was limited in his congratulations for Coun Lewis.

He said: “I’d like to congratulate Coun James Lewis on being elected leader of the Labour Group in Leeds and Leader Elect of the Council.

“Coun Lewis has been jointly responsible with Cllr Blake for overseeing the council’s financial situation. Now Coun Blake is going to the House of Lords, he will have to answer for the parlous state of the Council’s finances.

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“As a responsible opposition we will continue to hold the council administration to account, providing robust challenge and scrutiny, calling out decisions when we disagree, and offering our support where we consider it is in the best interests of Leeds.”

As it is not yet known when Coun Blake will be taking her seat in the house of Lords, the exact date of Coun Lewis’s swearing-in as leader is unknown, although the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands it will most likely be in February or March.