Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts on why he's standing down
GREENWICH Council's leader may be standing down from his position but Chris Roberts still wants to run to be a councillor at next year's local elections, he told News Shopper.
Councillor Chris Roberts, head of the local authority for 13 years, made the shock announcement that he would resign the leadership in a letter to colleagues on February 4.
Cllr Roberts told News Shopper he had originally planned to stand down in 2010, the year he turned 50.
He said: "I started to think about all the statistics that you hear about how hard it is to get a job after you're 50 and I was thinking that was probably the right time to go."
However, he said that it would have been "impossible" to leave before last year's granting of royal borough status and the Olympics, instead vowing to chief executive Mary Ney that this would be his last term.
The former GMB researcher said this month's announcement had been made early to give him enough time to find a job, but claimed he was unsure what that might be.
He said: "I'd like to do something that allows me to make good use of the experience I have here.
"The benefit of taking a decision early is to allow opportunities to emerge.
"People I've talked to have said I'll get lots of offers so we'll see."
Rumours have swirled that Cllr Roberts might try and run for a parliamentary seat, but he dismissed them and said he wanted to stay on the council - if he was chosen by the party and elected at the next local elections.
He said: "I think, frankly, I'd be bored as an MP and I think there's too many of them already to be honest. I'd be voting to get rid of myself. I'm a localist really."
"It's not at all a path that I've thought about."
He said highlights of his time at the top included being elected leader, setting up a council-run job agency and the opening of the O2 as an entertainment venue, putting the story of it as a white elephant to bed once and for all.
The arrival of the DLR in Woolwich was another plus point, while he said the battle over bringing Crossrail to the same part of town had been one of the bigger challenges.
He said: "Things like the ability to keep the council tax down have been good. It was at ludicrous levels when I took over and bringing that down to where we are now and freezing it for so many years is a real achievement."
But the leader warned: "I think we're potentially facing a very difficult crisis from this April onwards when the benefit changes come in."
During his 13 years, the Roberts regime has sometimes been criticised as only focusing on the town centres like Eltham, Greenwich and Woolwich - particularly the latter two. But he said: "When you look at the investment that goes into other places as a whole, we've made just as much in terms of schools and housing in those areas and tried to support it."
Reflecting on his time in office, Cllr Roberts said: "Every day is different.
"You hope you've left whatever you've done in a better position than when you started."
Cllr Roberts denied that he would have any role in choosing his successor, saying: "I think if you make a decision to go, you should just go.
"What I can offer is, I understand how lonely it can be and at the end of the day, there are certain things that only you can make a call on."
He said any new leader would be advised to be themselves, avoiding the pitfalls of national Labour leaders like Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock, who tried to change their personalities to be almost a different person.
Cllr Roberts said: "If you try to be something you're not, the public find out really, really quickly."