CHESTER is heading in the right direction, according to the leader of the council.
In an exclusive interview with the Leader, Cllr Mike Jones, leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, voiced his belief the city will be “markedly different” in the coming years and residents won’t “see the benefit” of his time as leader for at least another 10 years.
Having come in for criticism from some members of the public, unhappy at his stance on issues including the student village and the homeless hub at Richmond Court, Boughton, Cllr Jones said “tough decisions” had to be made and now was the time for a “robust council”.
“We can’t have another 20 years of indecision in the city,” said Cllr Jones.
“We have to make some tough decisions, and yes, sometimes these decisions are controversial.
“But we need to make them to move this city on.
“We can’t please all of the people all of the time.
“I hope people will see in time we have made the right decisions.
“I don’t think we will see the impact of my time as leader for another 10 to 15 years if I’m honest.
“Places like Blacon will be substantially different in the next 15 to 20 years, long past my time as leader.
“We are investing heavily and delivering on projects and it takes time for these to come to fruition.
“It is very unusual for a council to undertake projects and deliver them.
“I have lived in the city all of my life and the thing I get from people when I am talking to them is ‘the council is doing a good job’.
“You do get the detractors, and most of those tend to be on social media, who think everything gives them the chance to have a go when, actually, the people who work in these offices are no different to you and I, or them. Everyone makes mistakes.”
Speaking on the Chester bus station difficulties, with CWaC chiefs at an audit and governance meeting last month admitting they had failed to deliver the scheme adequately, Cllr Jones expressed his belief the council “were doing a good job in challenging circumstances”.
He said that they had “kept mistakes to a minimum”.
“We are in an organisation if we make a mistake, we put our hands up and we fix it,” said Cllr Jones.
“We have admitted when we have made mistakes, and the bus stop situation is a classic example.
“We spend £750 million a year and have done so for five years, which works out at about £4 billion. We have had one crisis of an £80,000 job, where an officer made a decision above the level of his competency.”
Cllr Jones said the officer got this wrong and has now left the organisation.
That is one project that we have got wrong out of all those that we have done,” he said.
“I don’t think that is a bad record if I’m honest with you.”
Cllr Jones also reflected on the personal criticism he has faced on social networking websites such as Twitter, claiming he had “developed a thick skin” during his time as leader.
“It can be a stressful job, but it is not the stress that I am worried about,” said Cllr Jones, council leader since 2009.
“I have done some pretty big jobs in my time, having been through privatisation, mergers and acquisitions.
“I think the criticism I receive, which is sometimes very unfair, does have an impact on my wife.
“When I do make a mistake, I hold my hands up and apologise. When you are very much in the public eye then you get used to it.
“I get ‘FOI’d’ on a daily basis I think. I don’t mind that though, if I have done something wrong then I will say sorry.”
Cllr Jones stressed the need for council members from all sides to come together in order to see Chester and the borough become a “vibrant area that appeals to investors”.
I have a group I have to keep on board, who do an excellent job in the community,” said Cllr Jones.
“To be fair, our members from both parties do want to become an elected member to do the best for their communities.
“I have given a lot of support to members of the opposition, who have done some really good things in some of the areas most deprived communities.
“Some of them can’t cope with that, but that’s life.
“They seem to think it should always be a political attack like on Prime Minister’s Questions, when in fact, more sensible people in the opposition say, ‘you know what, we like what is going on, we like the support we are getting because we can do things in our community’, and that helps them.
“The electorate should actually be quite proud of the elected members of the council because they are doing a of really good an interesting stuff in the communities.”