Labour leader resigns

THE leader of Hartlepool’s biggest political group has resigned from his role after 15 months in charge.

Councillor Chris Simmons has resigned from his position as Labour Group leader due to the impact the time and effort required in the role was having on his health.

Coun Simmons confirmed to the Mail that he offered his resignation to group chairman Rob Cook on Monday and alerted fellow members of the decision at a hastily-arranged meeting at the civic centre last night.

Councillor Ged Hall will replace Coun Simmons on an interim basis.

Coun Simmons said he has been thinking about stepping down for a “considerable amount of time” and went away at the weekend to think the decision through.

The dad-of-three told the Mail: “I am not just a member of the council, I am on the board of several charities and I have found the amount of time and effort required proved too much, it was having an impact on my health.

“I am very proud to have been asked to lead the group and it’s an honour to have held the position.

“It’s been interesting and at times very challenging and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as leader. But there comes a time when you have to make some checks to ensure you have a decent quality of life.”

The announcement comes ahead of Hartlepool Borough Council’s meeting tonight to set its budget.

It is understood Coun Simmons will remain a Labour councillor and cabinet member for children’s services within Mayor Stuart Drummond’s cabinet committee.

Hartlepool Borough Council needs to slash £15m from its £90m budget over the next three years, with about £6m being cut next year alone.

Coun Simmons, who has represented the Grange ward since 2007 and was formerly deputy leader, took over the reins in November 2010 after former leader, Councillor Jonathan Brash, stepped down after four years at the helm.

Speaking at the time, Coun Simmons said: “I will lead the Labour Group in a fierce and unremitting defence of essential local services and amenities that the Thatcherite ideologies of this Coalition government have put under threat.”

Coun Simmons, a former teacher at the town’s Henry Smith School who was made a Freeman of the Borough of Hartlepool in 2005, retired from his post as part-time administration manager at St Hild’s C of E school last summer.

He unsuccessfully stood in the 2009 Mayoral election in Hartlepool and came third place in the contest, which was won by Stuart Drummond.