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South Kesteven District Council gets new leadership after election of Kelham Cooke, replacing Matthew Lee

The leadership of South Kesteven District Council changed this afternoon, with Kelham Cooke taking the reins of power from Matthew Lee.

Coun Cooke (Con - Casewick) had been deputy to Coun Lee (Con - Stamford St Mary’s) until stepping in as acting leader following Coun Lee’s sudden resignation as group leader of the ruling Conservative group on the council in August.

In speeches to the full council, supplied top the Mercury, the pair highlighted the progress the council has made since 2017.

Coun Kelham Cooke
Coun Kelham Cooke

Neither of the written speeches included reasons for Coun Lee’s resignation, which followed the equally sudden departure of chief executive Aidan Rave, and Coun Lee’s narrow victory in the May council elections, in which he hung onto his district seat by only seven votes.

In his speech, 29-year-old Coun Cooke said he was proud to become leader, but his role was about people and what united all at the council was doing the best for South Kesteven.

His speech recognised that his predecessor had ‘many very good ideas’, which enabled the council to become more commercially focused to generate income and face the challenge of cuts in government funding. He added that the council is financially secure with healthy reserves.

Coun Cooke then acknowledged that further challenges lay ahead, with the council preparing for this through cost-cutting, growing income and investing in housing and business growth.

The focus of the council over the next four years, his speech said, needs to be ‘stability and delivery’.

He also pledged South Kesteven would become a ‘green council’, citing progress in replacing its streetlights with LED ones, having charging points for electric vehicles and reducing food waste.

His speech also mentioned plans to build 500 council homes over seven years, and to improve leisure facilities, and referred to improvements to Grantham town centre and the purchase of the Cummins factory site in Stamford where new homes and business units will be developed.

Coun Lee’s speech said the council could do more, which meant borrowing to create assets, which would generate income to protect council services and fund other schemes.

This was why, under his leadership, partnerships were created with private companies, he said, adding that balancing commercial confidentiality with transparency was a challenge.

Before wishing Coun Cooke ‘every success’ as leader, Coun Lee was due to tell members: “I can honestly say that I have put my heart and soul into leading this council and I am enormously proud of what we have achieved.”

Coun Cooke’s speech concluded: “There will be some difficult decisions to make, and there are, undoubtedly, tough times ahead. But there are also opportunities.”

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