I am into community politics, not party politics
SUCH is the measure of respect John Pollard enjoys in his home town of Hayle that no other resident stood against him in May's Cornwall Council elections, which he won against a field including UKIP and Labour candidates.
It is perhaps a commitment to doing what is right for his home county which landed him the top job at Cornwall Council. He neither sought nor expected to be asked to lead the unitary authority, but relishes the challenge of redefining what it stands for.
Relaxed, affable and courteous, with a ready smile, Mr Pollard intends to be a visible leader to staff at County Hall and the electorate and is keen to talk about how he hopes to make the council work for the community.
Describing himself as a local man working for local people, he says: "I am into community politics, not party politics. I believe in the principles of equality and justice. I am motivated by working for my community and I regard the whole of Cornwall as my community. This post is my opportunity to try to make a difference."
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With a 100 per cent attendance record in recent months, Mr Pollard believes in fulfilling his electoral pledges. His approach certainly appeals to the people of Hayle, having served on its town council for more than 30 years and in May increased his share of the vote from the 2009 Cornwall Council election by 14 per cent to 65 per cent.
But he never intended to be a politician. Born to shopkeeper parents and with family connections to the J&F Pool engineering works in Hayle, he attended Penpol County Primary School and Humphry Davy Grammar School in Penzance, before training as a teacher in Coventry. Returning home to Cornwall with his new wife, Jean, he taught history at Humphry Davy for 25 years, retiring in 2004 as deputy head.
Soon after coming back in 1982, he attended a meeting about the state of Hayle Harbour.
During the session, he was overheard muttering about the calibre of the councillors present – to which a local woman told him: "If you don't like it, stand for the council yourself."
He did so, and has now found himself unanimously elected by fellow councillors as their leader.
But the member for Hayle North has no illusions about the task ahead.
"I joined Hayle Town Council in 1982 to serve my local community and create a better quality of life," he says. "I wanted to make a difference. After working for the people of Hayle for 30 years, I decided I wanted to work for the whole community of Cornwall and stood for election to the new council in 2009."
He believes the ongoing rejuvenation of Hayle represents a useful analogy for the future prosperity of Cornwall as a whole.
"When I was a child, my grandfather would take me along North Quay after Sunday School. It was an active port, full of machinery and boats and coal coming in. But it declined and jobs became scarcer as everything closed, including J&F Pool, the power station, Slades and Harvey's. Hayle became a derelict, decaying place and came to be regarded by many as a bit of a dump.
"Fortunately we've stopped that and I have great hopes for a harbour that's active and open, with sensitive developments that produce jobs."
An early supporter of plans to scrap the district councils in favour of a single authority, he recalls: "I was in the minority. It was possibly because I had not been a district councillor and therefore did not have the baggage or affection for the districts. Cornwall is one region and one community and it made perfect sense for one council to be pulling together for all sections of society."
The new Cabinet he now leads consists of an alliance of Independents and Liberal Democrats. Mebyon Kernow and Labour have pledged to work constructively with the administration, while UKIP stated it will co-operate where it can. Tories refused to join the alliance.
"My aim as leader is to work with all members to create a positive and responsive council and to build better relationships with our partners," he says. "We need to fight for fairer funding, to bring investment into Cornwall and to build the best, most inclusive, vibrant and successful Cornwall possible."
"We need to sort out the budget. We need to establish what Cornwall Council can deliver in four years' time and budget to it.
"I'm not here to keep chipping away at services and taking things away to fit a budget, so we need to budget ahead. I also want to raise the reputation of the council. We have to get people to understand that we are delivering a service in the most businesslike way we can. We have got to regain people's trust and we have to be realistic about the service we can offer. It can't be what it was 20 or 10 years ago because the economic situation and the constraints are different."
As someone who has been deputy head of a comprehensive school, run oral history projects and successfully fought a campaign against a sewage outfall scheme, he is known as a man who gets things done – properly. Consequently, he believes the launch of the unitary authority four years ago was not handled as well as could be.
"There should have been huge excitement at the opportunities it offered. Instead we got bogged down with resentment and negativity about the loss of the districts, unease among the staff who were being reorganised to death, and concern over whether a council this size could actually operate.
"I see the new term as a second chance. We've had a lot of pain – now let's see if we can get a bit of the gain. Having got through those difficult years, let's zing a bit."
Away from council work, the father of two sons chairs Hayle Foundry Trust and was made a bard of the Cornish Gorsedd in 2011 for services to history and heritage – one of his proudest moments.
And he dismisses those who suggest heading Cornwall Council is something of a poisoned chalice.
"I don't see it that way at all, but as my opportunity to make a difference. I would have to say to those who think otherwise that chalices only become poisoned because someone puts the poison in. One of my jobs is to make sure there's no poison around. I hope I can engender a positive spirit. That might sound naive, but that's the way I see it."