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Kent County Council leader Paul Carter gets emotional during final speech in Maidstone

Emotional council leader Paul Carter broke down as he delivered his final speech as head of one of the largest councils in the country.

Tears rolled down the face of the Maidstone councillor after 14 years of heading Kent County Council came to an end today.

Cllr Paul Carter giving his final speech
Cllr Paul Carter giving his final speech

More than a dozen tributes were heard as the outgoing leader was described as "courageous" and compared to Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, during the full council meeting in Maidstone earlier.

The overwhelmed and teary-eyed Cllr Carter stood but was unable to finish the final words of his speech as his voice cracked and he fell to his chair after saying: "I hereby formally resign as leader of Kent."

Nearly 100 councillors and officers met in Maidstone County Council and applauded the outgoing council leader, who was elected as head of the authority in 2005 and has been a county councillor for 22 years.

Cllr Carter described himself as "his own boss" and told the council chamber: "I said 14 years ago I would do my absolute best to serve the people of Kent and this council. It has been full throttle all the way."

New council leader, Cllr Roger Gough (Con), described his predecessor as a "great giant"with a "courageous" leadership style, saying: "This is a man who looks for bullets to bite."

Cllr Carter got emotional during his last speech (19575338)
Cllr Carter got emotional during his last speech (19575338)

Cllr Jeremy Kite (Con), also Dartford council leader, described the outgoing leader asa "velvet steamroller" and said his departure marked the end to an "extraordinary" period in KCC's history.

He even compared Cllr Carter to one of the Maidstone councillor's own admirers, Mrs Thatcher, who herself served as prime minister for 15 years between 1975 and 1990.

Comparing his depature to the Iron Lady, Cllr Carter told the Local Democracy Reporting service: "It still ended in tears, but emotional tears with people saying nice things rather than being thrown out of office."

During his time as leader, one of the biggest challenges Cllr Carter faced was a decade of austerity following the 2008 financial crash up until the present day.

Cllr Carter, who also served as cabinet member for health reform, previously said the county authority has been running with 40 per cent less money than seven or eight years ago.

Listen to Cllr Carter's interview with Ciaran Duggan

Achievements during his tenure have included the creation of the Young Person's Travel pass (the Freedom Pass), persuading drug giant Pfizer to invest £5m into its operations in Sandwich after fears they would withdraw as well as the opening of the first 'new' grammar school in decades.

The shadow of Brexit could have marred the end to his tenure.

But, the outgoing leader's administration has been working hard on contingencies for a no-deal exit of the European Union, such as Operation Brock.

These plans include using Manston Airport as a lorry park for 6,000 vehicles and reducing disruption on motorways across the county.

After the meeting, he said: "This authority with its 8,000 staff has done miraculous things in enabling the continuation of good quality services against all the odds."

Cllr Paul Carter
Cllr Paul Carter

Cllr Peter Oakford (Con), deputy leader, said: "The level of support provided for the staff of KCC and residents of Kent often goes unnoticed...If he believes something is right then party politics does not get in the way."

Opposition party leaders also paid tribute with Cllr Dara Farrell, leader of the Labour group, commending the outgoing leader for advocating that parties across the entire political spectrum have a "democratic mandate".

Cllr Rob Bird, the opposition leader (Lib Dem), said Cllr Carter's departure marked an "important" day for KCC and said succeeding the former leader will not be an easy act to follow.

Cllr Sean Holden (Con) described Cllr Carter as "the real deal" while Cllr Barry Lewis (Lab) said he admired the politician and said he has a "dark sense of humour".

Cllr Carter announced he was resigning from his post as leader six weeks ago and the decision came shortly after he publicly said he was stepping down as leader of the national county councils network, which he chaired for the last four years.

The Maidstone councillor will now serve on the back benches and said he plans to rest tonight and "have a few drinks as well".

Following his departure, Cllr Carter says he wants to find ways to deliver better opportunities for young people who will not be entering A level courses or higher education and foster collaboration between community services and social care.

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