Gosport council leader Mark Hook reflects on 30 years in politics on final day in office
A COUNCIL leader is stepping away after three decades in the world of politics.
Leader of Gosport Borough Council, Cllr Mark Hook, is retiring from politics next year, after he has spent 12 months as the town’s mayor.
First elected for two terms in 1983, Cllr Hook has served continuously since 1998 and been council leader for 12 years.
But today, his office has been emptied of all paperwork, family photos and other trinkets, as another Conservative politician takes his place.
On his final day in charge, Cllr Hook reflected on the highs and lows of his political career, and spoken to The News about what his future holds.
He said: ‘There comes a time when you have to re-evaluate what you want out of life – I wanted to do other things and this gives me that opportunity.
‘I’m still young enough when I leave politics to have a life, and want to lead by example on that.
‘I gave it a great deal of though before announcing it. I can’t say I thought about it for a period of time, but looked at the opportunities and what I would like to do.’
Away from Gosport Town Hall, Cllr Hook, 62, is a trustee for Thorngate Churcher Trust and has a large family, with whom he would like to spend more time.
He also has a desire to travel and start reading for leisure.
‘Ironically I read a mass of reports and agenda papers, but can’t remember the last time I sat down to read an actual book,’ he said.
‘During the period I’ve been leader, the maximum time I’ve had away is one two-week break, so it would be nice to go away for a lengthier period of time.’
In his time as leader, Gosport Borough Council has overseen the opening of Gosport Leisure Centre, the construction of new play parks around the town, the introduction of changing places and development of facilities at Alver Valley Country Park, among other things.
Cllr Hook hopes that he will be remembered as a man who ‘tried his best’ for the town – but acknowledges some might not see it that way.
‘As the ruling group you have to make difficult decisions, and I’ve never shied away from making those’ he said.
‘I believe the decisions we’ve taken were right at the time – but there’s always things that don’t quite go to plan. That’s life, and I think that makes you stronger.
‘At the end of the day I had a go, I did my best and that’s all any leader can do for their local community.’
Since becoming a politician in the 1980s, the way local government functions has changed dramatically.
But Cllr Hook believes it has not changed for the better – instead citing government intervention and red tape as an obstacle towards getting things done.
He said: ‘I think the government involvement and, to a certain degree, interference, is the biggest change.
‘In the 1980s we could make decisions and move things forward pretty quickly; now there is more legislation and more demands by government on what we can and can’t do – sometimes to the detriment of the local authority.
‘What else has changed is working in partnership, with collaboration with local authorities and other agencies such as the coastal partnership, and I think that’s to our benefit.’
Cllr Hook’s reign has not been without its controversial moments.
In 2007 the council paid £7,230 to Cllr Hook’s then company, ELJ Furnishing, to put new carpets in the Town Hall reception.
Two years ago there were calls for him to resign after he racked up business rates debt at the same shop, which peaked at £19,638.
But the council leader has defended his position on both issues, maintaining that he was transparent about what was happening throughout.
He said: ‘As a local businessman, you would have thought that anyone would have the right to compete for a contract – myself included.
‘I put my quote in and subsequently found that I was 25 per cent cheaper than the second quote; the question you have to ask the public is do you want a council that would not take the lowest quote and save you money by excluding people from putting in a competitive tender? My view is I was a local businessman and was the cheapest, therefore offered best value for money.
‘On the business rates, yes there was a debt but I kept in contact with the borough treasurer, who was aware of everything I was doing and there was an internal investigation that cleared any wrongdoing, which was called for by my party at the time.’
Cllr Hook will be replaced at the helm of Gosport Borough Council by Cllr Graham Burgess, who represents Lee East and has served as deputy leader.
The outgoing Conservative leader says the two have very different leadership styles – but believes that the future of the party is in safe hands.
He said: ‘He’s been deputy leader for 12 years. He has served his apprenticeship really well and is a safe pair of hands.
‘It’ll be interesting to see what happens in 2022 with all-out elections but the team he’s built is an excellent one.’
All Gosport Borough Council seats will be up for election next year following a review by the Boundary Commission for England, which will see the number of seats shrink to 28 across 14 wards.
As for Cllr Hook, he plans to watch next year’s elections from a deck chair, rather than the front lines.
He said: ‘I see next year’s election through the eyes of someone looking forward to going on holiday.
‘My late father loved Australia and we have relatives who live out there, so I’m planning on leaving for three months to go over there.’