After four years of blistering fast change in Northampton the new face at the borough council helm is promising a new style of leadership - but don’t expect the town’s expansion to grind to a halt, she says.
Councillor Mary Markham (Con, Park) moved to England from her home in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s and, failing to be enamoured by the bright lights of London, settled in Northampton.
Now the mother of three finds herself an operational manager for a multinational facilities services company and leader of the town’s borough council, picking up the reigns of an administration which oversaw the building of a new bus station, a new train station and the demolition of the town’s long standing eyesore, Greyfriars.
But Councillor Markham says, with plans for a 60-business cultural hub, a massive development in the Waterside area and the biggest social housing development for years in the pipeline, she is the right person to steer the ship.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Chron, she said: “Just because we have a new leader it doesn’t mean we are shutting up shop and aren’t open for business. The business is still progressing, the business is still going forward. In fact I think it’s a bigger, more demanding picture now, there is so much more to move forward.”
Councillor Markham will be tasked with seeing through the majority of the projects started by her predecessor, the new Northampton South MP David Mackintosh.
But her style of leadership is likely to be very different.
She holds a full-time job, which means her newly formed cabinet will take a greater responsibility in the way the council is run, and she is not a ‘career politician’ hoping to climb her way up the national party ladder either.
During her opening cabinet meeting, Councillor Markham reportedly asked her cabinet members to go away and complete an action plan outlining how they will get all the projects under their remit done.
“Yes, I do work for a facilities management company,” she said, “but I think that enhances the role of the leader because it gives me the experience of working out there with business and industry, with being at the sharp end and being able to apply it to this role. I’m not someone who works in ideals,” she added. “I’m working through experience – and because of my age I’m a bit long in the tooth.
“If I didn’t believe I was capable of delivering what was in our manifesto, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
While few can deny the previous administration had a knack for getting things done, it often came under fire.
The much-criticised public engagement over plans to reopen Abington Street to traffic were described as “token consultations over the Christmas break,” by opposition members in early 2014.
The previous leader was heckled during a public meeting at the Guildhall over the plan and even walked out of the meeting amid the jeers. Numerous protests followed.
But the new leader, who claims one of her biggest sources of pride in life is raising her 21-year-old autistic son, is convinced she has thick skin.
She said: “Sometimes members of the public won’t agree with what we are trying to do, but that’s why it is so important to consult. We will have bullish decisions to make and I am happy to make those.”