Former Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson says he is proud of what his administration achieved
“I HAVE to stand back from local politics now and make a conscious effort not to get involved,” said the former leader of Cornwall Council Alec Robertson.
The 57-year-old is now found behind the bar of the Black Swan pub in Gweek, which he and his wife Lowenna took over just before Christmas.
It is a short drive from their home in Helston where their children, Blake and Billy, attend primary school.
On a bright sunny morning, Mr Robertson is busy getting the pub ready for the lunchtime service, sorting out a beer order with the brewery and repairing a broken ice machine.
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“I am still working long hours,” he says, “but in terms of pressure compared with leading Cornwall Council, it’s a much better level.
“For three and a half years while I was leader, I didn’t sleep properly and I thought about work constantly.
“In that time, I spent a lot of time away from my family and when I was with them, I was thinking about council business.
“I not only had a massive job to do, but I was constantly dealing with new areas and living outside my comfort zone.
“It wasn’t just the work itself, you have to deal with the opposition and keep your support with your own councillors as well.
“I’ve often said it was like going ten rounds with Mike Tyson – while riding a unicycle.”
Having tumbled from the metaphorical unicycle in October 2012, Mr Robertson also lost his seat of Helston North at the local government elections in May last year.
“I realised straight away we were going to have the summer of a lifetime, so I spent a month on the beach,” he adds.
A former Navy diver, supermarket manager and pub landlord, Mr Robertson embarked on a career in local politics almost by accident.
He was the landlord of the Queen’s Arms in Breage when he decided to stand for the Conservatives.
When the new Cornwall Council was formed, he was offered the leadership - a job he admits he never sought.
“I resisted it initially,” he says. “I had no political ambition in that sense but I did have a sense of duty.
“I knew there was going to be a cost – be that financial, emotional and ultimately to my health.
“But I did have a sense of duty. I think I was the right person at the right time.”
He says he remained faithful to the Conservatives, adding: “If you cut me, I’d bleed blue. The vast majority of my group of councillors were absolutely true blue.”
Mr Robertson remains unrepentant about his plans to part-privatise council services, a policy that ultimately led to the vote of no confidence that turfed him out.
“We had a vision of transforming the way the council did business.
“We bought time by making savings early and we put a plan in place to deal with funding cuts.
“What we didn’t want to do is just manage a decline. That’s what’s happening now and sadly the people of Cornwall will pay the price for that.
“Being the leader, it’s often called a thankless job. The media image of the complete hell I was going through, that wasn’t the whole story.
“In the world of local government, we were well respected and there was a lot of gratitude for what we had achieved.
“I played a key role in getting the Cornwall unitary authority off the ground and performing well from the moment my administration took over.
“It was a huge amount of work and it was very challenging, all the way through the three and a half years.
“I am very proud of what we achieved in the circumstances. We left a positive legacy of which I am very happy and proud.
“The biggest disappointment for me was, in the end, it wasn’t the opposition that brought down our administration. It was actually a small number of individuals within my own group, with their own personal agendas.”
He is now relishing a new challenge in building up his business in Gweek.
“As soon as we came here and saw the pub we fell in love with it.
“It’s similar to my previous pub in that it’s a nice village just outside Helston.
“I never thought of moving away. This is where my family and my roots are and it’s a great place to bring up children.
“I am very much in love with Cornwall and it’s always been my aim to stay here.
“I think it’s the best place in the world.”