‘It wasn’t an easy decision to stand’

New council leader Barrie Grunewald
New council leader Barrie Grunewald

NEW council leader Barrie Grunewald says creating jobs, improving schools and building a vibrant town centre will be his top priorities in office.

The Labour boss ousted former council leader Marie Rimmer following a vote at the local party’s annual general meeting last week to take the council’s top job.

And in his first interview since taking office, Coun Grunewald told the St Helens Reporter why he decided to mount a challenge to his former boss.

“I choose to stand for the leadership at the last minute and genuinely did not know whether or not I would win and in deciding to stand it was not an easy decision to take but I have done so as I believe it is time for change and for new leadership style and direction,” said Coun Grunewald.

“Marie has been a formidable leader and I know she will be rightly recognised for her contribution to St Helens in due course. I am proud that I won and know there is a big job of work to be done to get the council moving in a new direction and to give it a renewed focus.”

Despite the pressing financial challenges facing the council, he is optimistic about the future.

He said: “Despite these challenges and as someone who grew up outside St Helens I see the value and potential of our borough. It’s a town that gets into your blood.”

He also identified support for green industries and the Parkside development, and the creation of an Economic Development Fund as priorities.

Coun Grunewald added: “We give our young people the best possible chance in life and that’s why I believe we need to ensure that education is given the right focus, it is one of the best things we can do to attract people into the borough is through our schools.

“It’s shocking that we do not have one secondary school that is rated as outstanding and whilst that is only a badge it is an important indicator to parents.

“Therefore I want us to have a renewed focus on education, and that is why I have created a separate Cabinet position for Education and Life-long Learning to allow a real focus to be on improving our education offer.

“I am creating an Education Task Group which will bring together headteachers and interested parties to help shape a new distinctive vision of education in St Helens.”

Dad-of-two Coun Grunewald has worked as a regional director to the Labour party under both past Labour PMs, and previously worked in mental health services within the NHS. Aged 35, Coun Grunewald signalled his new approach by unveiling his new cabinet this week on Twitter.

Explaing his leadership style, he added: “I suppose is about me setting a vision but allowing my cabinet members and Labour Group members the space to deliver it and to innovate and bring new ideas to the table and some things we may try, may not work but if you don’t try them you will never know.

“We can create a new chapter in St Helens history that is the task in hand.

“And for me, it’s not about residents responsibility to the council, but responsibility residents have to their neighbours, their children, their friends and many others who they may never meet but who are affected by their actions.

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