Former council leader says his party was 'swept away on Brexit tsunami'

PUBLISHED: 08:28 09 May 2019

Howard Rolfe

Howard Rolfe

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Howard Rolfe, leader of Uttlesford District Council for five years, said: "We were swept away on a Brexit tsunami."

The Conservative councillor who saw his party's seats shrink from 24 to just four and lost his own seat in Ashdon, said: "It was a national phenomenon.

"I can't criticise the electorate, they made their decision for good reason.

"There were local issues [such as] housing and Stansted but the common factor across the county was Brexit. The electorate sent a message to Government: 'we've got fed up with you'.

"I just wish they had sent that message at the European rather than the local elections."

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Mr Rolfe said: "Like many remainers, I accepted the result of the referendum. I thought the prime minister put together a balanced deal that respected the decision but protected the economy. Those Conservatives who didn't support it, the European Research Group, have a lot to answer for. We had the opportunity to get a reasonable deal. It wasn't perfect but there always has to be compromise. We could have had this dealt with a long time ago."

Emphasising that he would not criticise his opponents, he acknowledged that Residents for Uttlesford, now the biggest group on the district council, had "very little experience".

He said: "My strong advice is listen carefully to your council officers. My biggest fear is what will happen to council finances. Local government finance is a challenge. We made a gilt-edged investment in Chesterford Research Park. We made £1.7million profit, without it we would have been looking for savings of £900,000, a big saving for a district council. We are in credit for 2018-19 and 2019-20, after that it becomes a challenge. We inherited a complete mess in 2007 (from the Lib Dems) and we put it right and stabilised it. We offered excellent services with the lowest Council Tax in Essex."

He said he would miss the community activity in his ward, which included Hadstock, Sewards End, Little Walden and Ashdon.

Mr Rolfe, a managing director of an NHS procurement hub for the East of England, said he would continue to work for the Conservative party and expected the Tories to get back at the next full council election in four years.

"I don't think the independents will have it as good again," he said.

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