SOUTHEND Council’s leader for the past seven years, Nigel Holdcroft, has announced he is standing down next May.

Mr Holdcroft, leader of the ruling Tory group on the council, has confirmed he will not be contesting his West Leigh seat in next May’s council elections Mr Holdcroft, a local solicitor, said his 14 years as a councillor and seven as council leader – the longest continuous term since Norman Harris in the Eighties –was long enough.

Instead, he plans to concentrate on his job with law firm Tolhurst Fisher, based in Nelson Street, Southend.

After overseeing £61million of spending cuts under his leadership, Mr Holdcroft, 51, said: “One of the challenges of political leadership at any level is to know when it is time to step down – hopefully when a majority of people will still be sorry to see you go. Let’s hope I haven’t left it too late.

“My activities as leader have massively limited my time at work and I will now be able to address that.

“The work of council leader is all-consuming, so I am also looking forward to spending some time doing other things and potentially contributing to the community in other ways.”

The Tories will select a new leader-elect at a group meeting in February, but Mr Holdcroft will continue to lead them until the election.

Tory councillor for Belfairs, Fay Evans, will move over to contest Mr Holdcroft’s West Leigh seat.

The party will then choose another candidate to stand in Belfairs.

Mr Holdcroft, who has been married for 31 years and has two daughters in their twenties, was picked as leader in 2007, a year after he rejoined the council having previously served in the Nineties.

He has been responsible for several controversial policies in recent years, including cuts to the library service, the closure of two care homes and the scrapping of the Southend Airshow – all to meet a £7.6million cut in central Government funding.

Mr Holdcroft denied he was leaving because of the controversial cuts or to coincide with a reduction in the hours chief executive Rob Tinlin, is due to work.

Mr Tinlin is moving to a four-day week.

The Tory leader said: “It would be possible to argue it is never the right time to stand down, but I’m confident if the town delivers a new Conservative administration next May, there will be continued strong leadership under whoever replaces me.

“However if the town leaves us with no overall control, and an administration composed of adisparate group of individuals with no common priorities or political philosophy, then I worry about the future.”

Mr Holdcroft, said he would remain a member of the Tory party, but said he had no interest in moving into national politics by trying to become an MP.