After a record seven continuous years at the helm, Cllr Roderick Bluh is stepping down as Leader of Swindon Borough Council and has thanked everyone for their tremendous support.
Cllr Bluh, who is resigning to pursue business opportunities, described the time as amongst the “most fulfilling and enjoyable years of his life” and remains passionate as ever about the town which has been his home and vocation for the past decade.
“First and foremost I would like to thank the people of Swindon for making me feel so welcome and for all their support over the years. It has been the greatest honour and privilege to serve and I have been humbled by the wonderfully dedicated people I have met across the Borough.” he said.
“I’ve always said Swindon is the friendliest place I’ve ever lived and that’s what makes it so special. We have achieved some brilliant things together, helping to put Swindon on the map for all the right reasons. There is, of course, much more to be done and I have every confidence my successor will continue to help make Swindon an even better place to work and live.”
Cllr Bluh will formally step down at the Council meeting on 11 April. In the meantime the Conservative Group will choose his successor.
Cllr Bluh, a chartered accountant, moved to Swindon in 2001 and was first elected as a Conservative Councillor for Dorcan in the June 2004 elections with the aim to “make himself useful” and put communities back into the heart of local politics.
He plans to set up a public affairs consultancy working as a interface with the private and public sector in order to generate income for eventual retirement. Cllr Bluh will be giving up his leader’s stipend of £27,000 a year but will continue to be a councillor, receiving around £8,000 in expenses.
He became leader in 2006 with his first year in office marked by the closure of the Wyvern Theatre, following the discovery of asbestos. Cllr Bluh was instrumental in ensuring the venue was refurbished and reopened as soon as possible.
Under his stewardship Swindon has undergone a huge amount of change. The Council has been transformed into a top quartile performing local authority. Regeneration has got underway with the delivery of a new, award-winning Central Library, millions invested in the town centre, new Station Forecourt, new Register office, and major schemes at the College Station and Princes Street finally underway.
Plans have been approved to build a University Technical College in the town centre, which will equip today’s pupils to become tomorrow’s engineering professionals. A super-fast broadband 4G network covering 64,000 homes will also be rolled out across the borough – the first in the country.
And a new regional multi-million pound leisure destination, including an indoor snow facility will be developed at North Star, next to a regenerated Oasis Leisure Centre.
Cllr Bluh’s record is not without its blunders. Lying in a field at Wroughton is a pile of stones that once were the pillars and portico of the Swindon Tabernacle before it was demolished in the 1980s. They were recovered in 2007 from another field, near Northampton, to be incorporated in a town centre redevelopment project which did not take place after the financial depression hit two years later. There is hope that the pillars could still be re-erected.
Pictured left, Rod Bluh with a model of The Tabernacle
Cllr Bluh has been mired in criticism over the town wide wif-fi project after the council lent operator Digital City UK £400,000 to set it up. The project failed in controversy in 2011 and how the money might be recovered for the taxpayer has yet to be explained adequately.
Cllr Bluh said: “Swindon is on the move in the right direction and not before time but there is still a lot to do when the economy permits.”
Cllr Bluh aspired from the outset to make Swindon “the place that everybody is talking about.” The town has achieved a national profile as a place of innovation not least because of pioneering work with troubled families and leading the way in removing speed cameras. However he is most proud to have played a part in building strong relationships across the public sector in Swindon along with the business community and voluntary and community sector. This has led to the “One Swindon” partnership, a model of one community working together to improve the lives of Swindon residents.
Cllr Bluh said: “The One Swindon way of working, supported by all parties, is vital if we are to deal with challenges of the future including rising demand and falling financial resources.”
There has been a major success in the last week where Swindon hit national headlines as the Government announced that Swindon and Wiltshire was one of the successful bids to be part of City Deals. This initiative which seeks to boost economic growth will fund 2,000 extra higher education places, improving employment prospects for young people.
Deputy Leader, Cllr. David Renard, said: “Roderick’s passion for Swindon and its people is truly admirable. He has worked tirelessly to achieve great things for the benefit of the borough, often in challenging circumstances, and I’d like to thank him for his exceptional commitment.”
Gavin Jones, Swindon Borough Council Chief Executive, said: “It has been a pleasure working with Cllr. Bluh and I know he will continue to be a fantastic ambassador for the Borough for many years to come.”
In response to Cllr Bluh’s announcement Labour Group Leader Swindon Labour Group Leader and Leader of Swindon’s Opposition, Councillor Jim Grant, said: "While it is well known that Councillor Bluh and I have had our differences politically and I have at times questioned his judgement, he deserves credit for the hard work he has put in for Swindon.
"I think one positive legacy he can take away is the links the Council has made with other local public sector bodies, like Swindon’s Primary Care Trust, with the aim of developing a more joined-up public service for the people of Swindon. And coming out of the turbulent years of a hung-council, there has been more stable leadership in Swindon over recent years.
"Sadly, his legacy of office will also be remembered as a time when Swindon has fallen behind economically compared to its competitor towns and cities. After the golden years of the 80’s and 90’s where Swindon was dubbed the fastest growing town in Western Europe, Swindon now is creating fewer jobs than its competitor towns and cities.
"As well as this, while Councillor Bluh has been in charge the Council has gone from having a treasury surplus, to being £90m in debt which has meant the Council has to spend millions and millions of pounds each year on debt charges.
"Regarding Councillor Bluh’s successor, I think David Renard has the right qualifications and experience for the job, so he would be a serious contender. However it is a matter for the Conservative Group to determine who they will choose as their leader."
Finally, I would like to wish Councillor Bluh the best of luck in the future with his new challenges.”