Tributes to long serving councillors standing down at the next election in West Berkshire themed the final pre-poll full council meeting last night (Thursday).
“I would formally thank those not putting themselves forward again for their service,” said council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen).
The meeting also saw rare cross party agreement on what was described by one Tory councillor as “the most humanitarian thing I have ever heard at this council”.
Jeff Beck (Con, Clay Hill), who is also standing down, was commenting on a motion put forward by Green group leader Carolyne Culver (Green, Ridgeway).
“The past four years have seen the residents of West Berkshire and the council rise to many challenges including the Covid 19 pandemic, providing homes and support for people fleeing war in Ukraine, and the cost-of-living crisis,” said Ms Culver’s motion to the chamber.
“We would also like to pay tribute to those we have lost including councillor Peter Argyle and officers.
“Stuart Clarke was known fondly as the gentleman surveyor and worked tirelessly in his pursuit of funding to help protect the residents of West Berkshire from the devastating floods the district has witnessed through the years. Stuart was successful in bringing tens of millions of pounds into the district and using it to deliver essential infrastructure.
“Anop Gehlot, another gentleman, who worked closely with Stuart on delivering drainage and flood alleviation projects, worked in public service in the Berkshire area for more than 40 years. His colleagues described him as a kind, knowledgeable, patient, practical and gifted engineer. Both Stuart and Anop are sorely missed.”
Mrs Doherty said: “We lost 343 people to Covid in West Berkshire. To see them remembered is very fitting.”
All agreed that the contribution made by volunteer groups in the district was outstanding.
Opening the final full meeting before the May 4 elections, she paid tribute to long serving councillors in her party.
She described Garth Simpson (Con,Thatcham), in office since 2011, as “an outstanding councillor”.
She nodded to the absent Alan Law (Con, Basildon), first elected in 2007, as well as Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley and Cold Ash).
In an emotional tribute, she said: “Anyone who knows Hilary knows she has a heart of gold. She has been there consistently for me since I was elected.”
She described Mrs Cole as a mentor and friend and thanked her for all her service to West Berkshire.
“As I come to the end of my 16 years on this authority I too want to pay tribute to the officers I’ve worked closely with – I’ve found them helpful and respectful; we have an outstanding team of officers,” said Mrs Cole.
“I’ll miss the friendship and the comradeship I’ve formed over the years. I’ll miss the robust debate in the chamber. In particular councillor Brooks’ bravura performances.
“We may not always agree – but you always entertain. You are always good natured and bring some humour to it. We may disagree in the chamber, but outside the formal meetings we work extremely well.
“Its been wonderful working with you all. I’ve loved every minute of being on this authority.”
Mr Beck is also standing down after 19 years.
“Jeff is the embodiment of someone with a sense of duty,” added Mrs Doherty, saving the tribute to the longest serving councillor until last.
“Graham Pask (Con, Bucklebury) was first elected in 1987 – he has done 36 years in total. If you add his time as a parish councillor it makes 40 years of local government service.
“He has integrity, fairness, compassion and kindness and he is a wonderful ambassador for us. His guidance, along with that of councillors Law and Cole, have really helped me as leader. I think you on behalf of everyone for your service.”
Mr Pask was leader of the Conservatives, and played a key role in many of the portfolio areas.
“It has been a difficult decision. I will miss you all,” he said.
“What has always struck me most is the voluntary organisations which make such a difference to life in West Berkshire and it has been a privilege to represent Bucklebury. I think I’ve attended 480 parish council meetings I reckon. It has been a pleasure. I will miss it all, but I am sure new opportunities will arise.”
The Lib Dems also made special mention of councillor Royce Longton (Lib Dem, Burghfield and Mortimer) who is also not standing again.