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Military pragmatist

Working lives - Mike Hill has used his civil engineering background to help shape his local community.

My personal view is that local government isn't about politics. It's about delivering public services, says Conservative councillor for Tenterden, Kent, Mike Hill.

Today, people up and down country will be casting their votes in local elections, with the hope that public services will be improved. As a civil engineer who has worked around the world for the Royal Engineers, Hill believes engineers have the ideal qualities to be successful and effective in local government.

'We're pragmatic people who are used to being held to account for what we do.' Hill's career has included building and managing a hospital in Saudi Arabia, constructing reverse osmosis plant in the Kuwaiti desert and reinforcing government buildings in Northern Ireland.

He says he fell into politics by accident. 'After serving in Northern Ireland, my wife and I returned to Kent where she took up the post of the local Conservative party secretary and I was captain of the local golf club.

And one day, I was just asked to stand [for the party], ' he says.

'I thought I wouldn't enjoy knocking on people's doors - feeling I would be invading their privacy - but people were generally pleased to meet me and hear what I had to say'.

Hill will serve until 2009 as the cabinet member for community services. His responsibilities include community safety, sport and the Olympics, arts projects, cultural development, adult learning and libraries - one of Hill's personal interests.

'Libraries are subjects of great national debate at the moment - we're working hard to modernise them. Their requirements have changed as books have become cheaper to buy. In their current state, they only appeal to young children and the elderly. This means adding internet services and making them more like community centres, housing a variety of council services, ' he says enthusiastically.

He passionately believes that delivering local services is the only way of winning crucial votes. He cites a recent decision to place 100 community wardens in the county as another way of giving people what they really want.

'It's not just about controlling crime, it's about community cohesion and providing people with reassurance about the state of law and order in their local environment, ' says Hill.

Hill's other responsibilities have included the recently ditched Turner Contemporary art gallery and driving Allington's Energy from Waste scheme through planning permission This was a particularly interesting time where his civil engineering knowledge proved invaluable.

On Turner, he was able to 'translate' to cabinet colleagues the problems with the design and contractual arrangements. The project had to be dropped when costs escalated to £48M (NCE 23 February). With Allington, he had to listen to both sides of the argument - local residents and green groups offering statistics condemning the nasties emitted from 'incinerators', while engineers and waste management companies offered equally wellresearched information on how closely scrutinised and regulated emissions are.

'With Allington, we just had to do it, ' says Hills aware of the pressures put on the region to dispose of waste without resorting

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