Councillor Cook shortlisted for national award

Back where it all began, Michael Cook at Eyemouth Leisure Centre
Back where it all began, Michael Cook at Eyemouth Leisure Centre

EYEMOUTH councillor Michael Cook takes his place among the elite of Scottish politics next week for The Herald’s Scottish Politician of the Year Awards.

Councillor Cook is one of three Scottish councillors shortlisted for the Local Government Politician of the Year section.

As Cosla’s (Convention of Scottish Local Authories) human resources spokesman since 2007, he had the unenviable job of negotiating a pay freeze for council workers - 0.65% for 2010/2011 and a pay freeze in both 2011/12 and 2012/13.

When the unions representing council workers overwhelmingly rejected the offer on the table in August last year council leaders withdrew their original pay offer to employees and imposed a three year deal.

Councillor Cook said at the time: “We hugely value our hard-working employees, and on this basis made them an original offer which represented the absolute extremity of what councils could afford.

“The unions have to realise the unprecedented financial circumstances which the public sector, and local government in particular, finds itself.”

The threatened closure of Eyemouth swimming pool in 2001, as Scottish Borders Council struggled with a £3.9 million overspend in its education department, was the catalyst that set Councillor Cook off on a new career, from lawyer to councillor.

He spearheaded the campaign to save the pool and when there was a by-election a few months later he followed through what he had started, stood as an independent councillor and was elected.

He successfully defended the seat in the council elections in 2003 and when he was appointed deputy leader of the council shortly afterwards, council leader David Parker described Councillor Cook’s rise as “meteoric”.

“Michael is an exceptional politician and deserves the recognition,” said Councillor Parker this week.

“Basically he came into politics on the back of anti-cuts and when he joined the council he made a huge impression immediately.

“Five years in he became a huge figure on the national stage and in his role with COSLA he is regularly doing a range of different things. He is very accomplished and highly regarded universally across the political spectrum.

“He has made a massive contribution to Scottish Borders Council and in terms of Berwickshire Michael has done a huge amount, always fighting for Berwickshire and making sure people understand the Berwickshire dimension.”

Speaking about his nomination Councillor Cook said: “I’m delighted to be one of three nominations for local politician of the year. It’s not false modesty to think that Highland Council leader Michael Foxley (retention of emergency tugs and coastguard campaign) or Moray councillor Dave Stewart (Save Lossiemouth) may be more likely to win. Dealing with pay constraint, negotiating wage freezes and the like, as I did, seems less attractive. However, I’d like to think that in getting to the place we got to that more people are in jobs in Scottish local governmentt today than would have been the case had we not found the path we did.

“I’m also very conscious that you can only make progress as a politician if you’re supported in doing so. Here in East Berwickshire, at Scottish Borders Council and within the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, I’m privileged in the support I receive.”