Published: 14:27, 26 May 2022
| Updated: 16:01, 26 May 2022
The leader of Medway Council has announced he will be stepping down at the next election.
Conservative Cllr Alan Jarrett has called time on his political career so he can enjoy his retirement years.
The 71-year-old has been on the council since it formed as a unitary authority in 1998 and by the time of the local elections next May, he will have spent 23 years either as leader or deputy leader.
The Lordswood and Capstone representative told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he came to the decision in November 2020. He will not be seeking re-election in his ward.
He said: "I think Medway's changed beyond recognition in the last 26 years and we've really got a lot to be proud of.
"We've got more businesses, we've got a more buoyant economy; our economy has grown to almost £6 billion gross value added, and that's more than doubled over the years.
"We have invested in regeneration, we've changed our town centres and are still doing that.
"The work we're doing in Chatham now is an example, but we've also done massive work in Strood, Rochester, and Gillingham."
He was elected leader in 2015, taking over from Cllr Rodney Chambers (Con).
He said the council experienced an "enormous challenge" when its children's services department was rated "Inadequate" twice over the last 10 years.
The authority received the rating in 2013 before turning things around in 2015 when it was graded "Good".
In 2019, the department was rated "Inadequate" again, which led to a period of scrutiny from a government-appointed commissioner.
He added: "Providing good quality jobs that's been a challenge, we've been achieving that, and we've done an awful lot."
He said it was also important to him to keep Rochester Airport commercially viable and promote Medway's history.
More recently questions over his leadership were raised after a last-minute withdrawal of the authority's draft Local Plan, the day before a crucial vote on whether the document could go out for public consultation.
He was also criticised in 2020 when he compared Black Lives Matter protests to a "lynch mob" during a council meeting discussion on whether to change the name of one of Chatham's car parks, which was named after a slave trader.
Asked how he has dealt with the criticism which comes with having the top job, he says he always views complaints proportionately.
"We have 204,000 voters in Medway and when an issue arises I might get half a dozen, or 10, or 20 emails or messages of criticism and I always have to put that in the context of what's best for the wider Medway," he said.
"That's the job of the leader, not to respond to every piece of criticism and react in that way, but to have a clear sense of direction and policy which is mandated by the Conservative group and agreed by the democrated process.
"I think you have to stick to what you have agreed, otherwise you achieve nothing."
Cllr Jarrett said retiring will allow him to focus on his family, country sports and writing; he is the chairman of the Kent Wildfowling and Conservation Association and has written books on the subject.
He added: "I want to get on and do other things whilst I'm still able to do so."
He did not say who he had in mind to be next in line for his job.
He said: "I'll work with the Conservative group to see if we can identify a successor and see if we can have a seamless handover which we did when Cllr Chambers stepped down and I became leader."
He thanked Cllr Chambers for his support, as well as the late councillor and alderman Tom Mason, who was his mentor when he joined the council, and former councillor Angela Prodger who he said helped him become deputy leader in 2001.