There are probably not too many people who can boast that they have the prime minister’s phone number and other high-level politicians on speed dial.
But South Holland District Council leader Gary Porter can – and he believes that means the district can punch well above its weight in the national political arena.
That kind of political influence isn’t usually enjoyed by leaders of small district councils in “rural backwaters” like South Holland.
We have it because Coun Porter has expanded his own political career beyond the district’s boundaries.
Recently he has come under fire through our letters’ pages for his othertwo roles, one of which is paid, – with one letter writer claiming residents are being short-changed because Coun Porter is unable to “effectively engage with residents’ issues when he is carrying out so many paid responsibilities”.
Mr Porter quickly wrote his own letter to the Lincolnshire Free Press disputing the claims.
He says there is now such a good team in place – and effective systems – that he can trust things to run smoothly without his input in every aspect of the day-to-day running of the council.
It gives him the time to promote the district’s interests in a bigger arena.
Most recently he was elected as chairman of the Conservative Councillors’ Association –to which all Conservative councillors across the country belong.
But more importantly to South Holland, it earns Gary a place on the Conservative Party Board.
He said: “It means that every month we discuss issues concerning all aspects of the Conservative Party.
“The role gives me a voice to raise issues with any Government department, such as the Home Office, DEFRA and Department of Education.
“So far I have only been to one board meeting and as it was my first, I really just went to listen rather than speak. But there are a lot of influential politicians involved, so for us to have a seat at the table gives us the chance to have an influence on what’s happening.
“If there’s an issue, I always look at it with South Holland tinted glasses. I always look at what the benefit is to South Holland, then Lincolnshire and the East Midlands.”
Gary’s other job, which he took on in June 2011, is leader of the Conservative group of the Local Government Association, also holding the title of LGA vice-chairman.
As well as allowing him to be heavily involved in new policies – he played a large part in drawing up the advisory proposals for the new National Planning Policy Framework – it also gives him regular access to the likes of Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps, planning minister Nick Boles, Brandon Lewis and Eric Pickles, of the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Gary said: “All these people are on my speed dial and I’m on theirs.
“I don’t want to waste their level of influence, but I can go straight to the top and ask the Prime Minister if it’s important.
“In terms of South Holland it means quite often when a piece of policy would have an impact on us, I can have input on it and I always do it through South Holland tinted spectacles.
“For example we recently received some extra Government money for carrying out weekly refuse collections.
“I was one of the voices saying it was a good thing to do because it suited us and what we are already doing in South Holland.
“South Holland is at the heart of everything I do because without it I wouldn’t have these jobs and the opportunity to raise the issues.
“The jobs are all paid and I am not hard up but I will never be a millionaire and it’s not about the money anyway,
“I love what I do and I wake up every morning and say ‘yippee’. This isn’t what I would call hard work.
“But all policians have a limited shelf life. I am still relatively young but with a lot of years in the job and I still think I’ve got something to offer.
“While I’ve got that I’ll continue to do my best for South Holland. When I no longer believe that, the fun will have gone out of it and I’ll stop.”