Council leader bids farewell in last Advertiser column.

Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper’s last column for the Advertiser series of newspapers was published this week as Harrogate Council is set to merge with North Yorkshire County Council to become the new North Yorkshire Council on Saturday. The column is reproduced below.

“After 24 years as a councillor and nine years as Leader I’m leaving representative politics on 31 March.  The Advertiser series have kindly asked me to pen a monthly column since I announced I wasn’t standing for election to the new North Yorkshire Council.

“I have written about my support for the Station Gateway scheme and sustainable transport measures, about how best we support street beggars and rough sleepers, about how we need more homes so that young people can afford to live here, about how those supporting a new town council for Harrogate need to tell us what it will do – controversial stuff.

“And I’m pleased to say there has barely been any response.

“My conclusion:  everyone agrees with me.

“This is, of course, incorrect.  But it demonstrates the struggle every politician has. And that has been a recurrent theme during my tenure.

“You cannot take silence as agreement.  Equally you cannot take someone airing their views at volume as meaning that everyone supports that view.

“My solution to that was always to give my view and have it tested by argument or to take other people’s views and test those similarly.  Argument doesn’t mean shouting and insults.  It is about reaching a good conclusion having been through the options.

“And it is difficult.

“If you have a petition that has 1000 names on it, are the words more valid than a petition with ten names on it?  Of course it depends on what those words say.  It should only take one person with a good argument to persuade you.

“Holding your nerve when people are shouting at you in a public meeting is tough.  I get that.  But making bad decisions because of that is always wrong.

“Equally when the evidence proves you are wrong or circumstances change it is hard to change course because you don’t want to admit you were wrong.  People are rarely understanding or grateful.  In 2017 I supported a change to the way our markets operated.  Many good points were made to me about why the decision was wrong.  I went to a public meeting and announced I had got it wrong.  The policy was changed.  It was right not to let pride get in the way of making the right decision. 

“And be prepared if you don’t agree with someone to be accused of ignoring them.  People regularly confuse not agreeing with being ignored and it is rarely the case.

“So my one piece of advice for the new north Yorkshire Council? 

“Try and listen to the voices that aren’t shouting at you.  Try and listen to those who haven’t signed a petition.  It is easy to hear what the megaphone campaigners are saying.  Wealthy people and well-funded groups have no problem making their voice heard.  But in the end take decisions because, after your arguments have been tested, you believe they are right.  The loudest voices might be right – but often they are not.

“And good luck.”