As the beating heart of the city’s political scene, Colchester Town Hall’s council chamber has seen plenty of heated debates over the years.

Councillors, many of whom are Colchester born and bred, take their responsibilities seriously – at a local level, politics is purely about public service, and anybody in it for self-cement is found out sooner rather than later.

As a former civil servant for the Ministry of Defence, David King – who became Colchester Council leader in May – is used to more than the mere verbal skirmishes which council meetings have to offer.

Speaking to the Gazette from his home in Mile End, Mr King told of his 43 years as a civil servant in the Ministry of Defence, which took him to Iraq and Saudi Arabia – though never, it should be added, on the front line.

Nonetheless, Mr King has still seen countries where there are no public services – let alone public servants – to value local politics from a different vantage point compared to most.

He said: “Politics is about public service – a lifetime in public service leaves you aware of what could be done well or could be done better.

“What I know is that good administration is a dull thing, but absolutely essential – how well people connect to each other, how clear they are about what is most important, and how well it’s delivered… those things I can make a contribution to.

“I can help the council be clear about what matters and I can help give some leadership.”

Given his career in the civil service, Mr King is more accustomed to staying out of politics rather than getting stuck in but he explains that a lifetime of required political neutrality has shaped a perspective which is unpartisan and down the line.

“What you have to be in public service is apolitical – you have to serve political leadership of the day directly or indirectly.

“You have the right to vote, you have an opinion, but you are expected not to engage in political activity.

"I didn’t, and nor did my counterparts, but you tend to be down the middle and that’s the politics I then entered into, trying to take a broad view down the middle lane of life.”

Representing the Mile End ward, Mr King has been a Liberal Democrat councillor since 2018 and, although he is not the leader of the Colchester Liberal Democrats, he became Colchester Council leader in May after the Liberal Democrat, Labour, and Green parties formed a coalition.

As the leader of what has been referred to as the ‘traffic light coalition,’ what is it Mr King wants to achieve in his position?

The answer, understandably, is to help people get through the winter, with the cost of living crisis to make the final months of 2022 far tougher for far more people than in previous years.

Part of the solution, Mr King explains, is to give people a better idea of where they can go for help.

“The big issue is the impact of the cost of living crisis – we’re going to have to keep doing a whole set of things which we know are important,” he explained.

“We’re going to have to work really hard to help as many people as we can, the most vulnerable in particular, through the maze that is central government and local government support and help.

“There are pots of money, there are places to go, but lots of people aren’t familiar about where to go for help and support when looking for advice on employment or when they are entitled to crisis support – some people don’t know how to go about it.

“It’s not the size of the golden pot, it’s about knowing where to go for help and support – that’s got to be our priority.”

If it’s going to be a challenge for local government to outline the support to people who need it, it will be an even bigger challenge for the individuals who have seen their bills increase, wages stagnate, and cash reserves dwindle in recent months and years.

“[Handling the cost of living crisis] is going to be the most important thing because it’s directly going to affect how lots of people get through this winter – it’s going to be long, and it’s going to be hard for some people, including people who have never been in that position before.

“People who have previously managed will struggle, and we’ve got to try and deal with it.

“Politicians, in my experience, are united on the principle that public service is an honourable thing.

“That’s it for me – it’s an honourable thing; I look past the politics to what the needs are and what we can do better.

“We do care, and we do have skill – we will do our very best to support people through.”