Council leader steps down to serve Boris

LEADER of Westminster Council Sir Simon Milton is stepping down from his role after being poached by the newly elected Mayor of London Boris Johnson

Susanna Wilkey

LEADER of Westminster Council Sir Simon Milton is stepping down from his role after being poached by the newly elected Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

After eight years as leader he will be quitting in June to take up his new role as the mayor's senior advisor for planning.

In a letter to community leaders he said: "I was greatly honoured that I had been considered to be one of the 12 mayoral appointments but having discussed what was expected of me it become clear that my appointment would be incompatible with my continuing role as leader of Westminster Council.

"After reflecting on this choice, I have decided to accept the Mayor's offer to become his senior advisor for planning.

"My excitement at the chance to work in pan-London government is tempered by my sadness at leaving behind my current role."

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He continued: "Westminster Council is without doubt the best council in the country and I am proud of the contribution I have made in achieving that reputation. I hope that I can bring some of the Westminster standard of efficiency, effectiveness and innovation to the government of London."

Sir Simon became leader in May 2000 and has been a councillor since 1988. He will continue to be a ward councillor for Lancaster Gate as well as chairman of the Local Government Association after he steps down as leader.

During his reign, Westminster achieved some of its highest ratings for public satisfaction and service approval in the country and set one of the lowest council tax rates.

His leadership has seen the introduction of four city academies, the construction of the Golden Jubilee Bridge, the delivery of the Paddington Basin and Westbourne Green regeneration project and plans for the renewal of the West End.

Sir Simon received a knighthood for services to local government in the New Year's Honours list in 2006. The full council will elect a new leader in June.

Chief executive of Westminster Council Mike More said: "Simon has an outstanding reputation in local government for vision and leadership and our council plays a critical role in London so I'm not surprised the Mayor has invited him to be part of his team."

The council also announced yesterday the creation of a new cabinet post to tackle social exclusion as part of a major reshuffle of senior councillors.

Cllr Brian Connell has been selected for the new role of cabinet member for communities and economic development to drive forward Westminster's "Families at Risk" agenda - a programme to combat unemployment, drug abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues and poor parenting.

He said: "I am delighted to have been offered this opportunity to take up this very exciting but challenging position."

The new role and the wider reshuffle needs to be approved at the annual council meeting on Wednesday.

Other key changes to the cabinet include Cllr Phillipa Roe replacing Cllr Angela Harvey as cabinet member for housing and Cllr Ed Argar who is set to become cabinet member for health and adult services.