Lancashire County Council leader to step down at local elections

Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver will not be standing at the forthcoming local elections in May, he has confirmed.

Friday, 12th February 2021, 1:45 am
Updated Friday, 12th February 2021, 2:26 am

The veteran politician – who has led the Conservative group at County Hall since 2008 – said he made the decision at the time of the last county poll four years ago that it would be the last time he would seek re-election.

His departure will bring to an end a lifelong association with local government, dating back almost 60 years – the majority of which was spent in senior officer roles, before he moved into politics at what was then Preston Borough Council in the late 1990s.

Reflecting on his reasons for leaving local politics, the 76-year-old said: “I’m not getting any younger – and if you stand for the county council, you stand for four years.

County Cllr Geoff Driver in the chamber at County Hall, where he has been Tory group leader for 13 years and council leader for a total of eight, across two terms of office

“I’ve spent all my adult life in local government finance, but it doesn’t get any easier doing things like setting budgets,” added County Cllr Driver, speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service just hours after giving his final budget speech during a remote meeting of the authority.

He started out in local government straight from school, taking up a job at Rawtenstall Town Hall.

“I had the rather grandiose title of ‘trainee chartered municipal treasurer’, he recalls.

After spells at councils in Eccles and Coventry, he became director of finance at Kirklees Council in 1983, before moving to become city treasurer in Plymouth six years later – and eventually returning to his native Lancashire in the top job as chief executive of Preston Borough Council in 1993.

He retired after four years – and admits that his subsequent foray into politics, with the very same authority, came about largely by accident.

“I don’t know whether I was poacher-turned-gamekeeper or gamekeeper-turned-poacher,” he laughs.

“But I had two neighbours who were Conservative councillors and they just said why don’t you come and join us – and the next thing I know I’m elected.”

It was an equally unplanned moment that led to him being selected to contest a seat on Lancashire County Council in 2005 – nobody else put their name forward.

Within three years, he was Conservative group leader and has been leader of the council for two terms – from 2009 until 2013 and 2017 onwards, while representing the Preston North seat.

Looking back, he says the proudest moment of his working life came when he was awarded the CBE in 2013.

“I have had two different careers and they have both been really fulfilling – but the CBE really was a huge honour.

“I would never suggest that being in local government is a vocation like being a doctor or a nurse, but it is different from going into the private sector – because you just feel that you want to serve your fellow citizens.

“As an officer, I always wanted to be in local government and, just before I got my first director’s job, people tried to tempt me away to go and work in the private sector – and I just wasn’t interested, I wanted to stay in local government.

“And now as a politician, whatever anybody’s party is, being elected to serve your fellow residents is an honour and a privilege – that applies right across the political spectrum.

“We might have our differences – usually not so much over what we do but how we go about doing it – but everybody wants to serve the people who elected them.”