Ferris Cowper, the pioneer of a new way of running local government, is to step down as leader of East Hampshire District Council.
Cllr Cowper, 67, who has twice been the council’s leader, has announced the decision now to ensure a smooth transition to a new leadership in May. He says he intends to retire entirely from the council at the next elections in 2019 to devote himself to more personal goals – such as music, motor racing, learning to fly an aircraft, and his family.
Meanwhile, he plans to maintain a high profile role within the council’s Cabinet to see through the innovative zero council tax strategy and the delivery of the regeneration of Whitehill & Bordon. "I feel that political leaders have a habit of outstaying their welcome and I do not plan to let that happen to me," he said. "I want to step down while I’m still at the very top of my game."
Cllr Cowper, who represents Grayshott, has used his background in the private sector to revolutionise the way in which the district council carries out its business. It has meant that the council generates income by selling its services and, through deputy leader Cllr Richard Millard, is building a property portfolio to achieve the best return for investment. Last month it announced a 2.6 per cent cut in its share of council tax – the only local authority in England and Wales to cut tax rather than put it up – and plans to remove it altogether in the future. The council was still able to pledge the maintenance of front line services and a £29m investment in its leisure centres in Alton, Petersfield and Whitehill & Bordon. In another innovation, councillors have been given the power to target £4,500 a year to projects in their own communities.
Cllr Cowper, who was behind cost saving efficiency measures like sharing executive services with Havant Borough Council and refuse collection services with Winchester City Council, said: "I feel I have achieved an immense amount for the community across the board. EHDC is a record breaking council with a radically innovative attitude to all services and business initiatives, not to mention the national exemplar regeneration project in Whitehill and Bordon. The council is in a good place. We have an exciting and difficult journey to fulfil our goals, but the engine of the council is well oiled and running smoothly. It’s a powerful engine which is easily capable of getting us there. We are running at high speed but things are steady. This is a good moment to hand over the driving."
Cllr Cowper’s other achievements include the ten years old Butserfest music festival, which provides an alcohol and drug free environment for young people, an Autosolo motoring event for budding drivers and the East Hampshire Sports Awards, celebrated just a few weeks ago with Olympic hockey gold medallist Alex Danson as guest of honour.
The Conservative Group of district councillors, which holds a political majority, will elect its own leader at its meeting in early May and will then nominate him/her to the council for election at the full council meeting.