OUTGOING leader of the council Mike Freer says the timing of his decision to step down is to allow the Barnet Tory party to settle under a new regime before next year's elections.

The conservative councillor, who has led the council for three and a half years, will relinquish his role when the council meets on December 15.

Speaking less than 24-hours after yesterday's announcement, Cllr Freer said the draft budget is “pretty much complete” and a change of leadership now will enable the party to take those plans forward more smoothly.

He said: “It's just a question of looking at when is the right time to hand over the reigns.

“The timing was to allow a new leader of the Conservative group to be put in place, to finalise the budget, the manifesto and have a clear run and settle in before the elections next May.”

The move signals the start of his increased efforts to secure the parliamentary seat of Finchley and Golders Green, for which he is the Conservative candidate, and will see him go up against Barnet Labour group leader Alison Moore.

Cllr Freer also said the announcement, which came days after Tory leader David Cameron visited the borough to lend his weight to the fledgling election campaign, enabled him to leave “on a high”.

He said: “Clearly I had already announced that seeing as I was parliamentary candidate I would not be seeking re-election for council.

“As it got closer to May, I didn't want to fall into the trap of [Tony] Blair, in that everyone knows you're going they just don't know when.

“The closer and closer it comes, and if I'd left it to the last minute, the less authority you have. So it is better to go out on a high, when I feel I've accomplished a significant amount, and let someone else take over.”

The 49-year-old would not be drawn on who his successor may be, but admitted he sees no problem if it ends up being an uncontested nomination.

He said: “I have one vote like anyone else and I won't be nominating anybody.

“Whether there is a contest is for other people to decide. It doesn't bother me one way or another.

“If the right person comes froward, then the right person comes froward. If there is a contest then so be it, that's healthy.

“If there is no contest because there is only one nominee then that means the group are happy to have one nominee, that's democracy.

“But whoever is elected will have my unstirring support. I would not be a back-seat driver or a back-seat critic.”

Would an uncontested nomination for the leadership of the council be fair on voters? Leave your comments below