A COUNCIL boss who stood before a world audience to introduce Tony Blair as the UK's Prime Minister has announced his retirement.

Norman Vaulks, chief executive of Sedgefield Borough Council, in County Durham, has confirmed he is to leave the post in May.

As returning officer for the Sedgefield constituency, Mr Vaulks has overseen Mr Blair's three successful local elections during his time as Prime Minister.

The 58-year-old is the longest-serving local authority chief executive in County Durham, after a decade in charge.

Educated at Spennymoor Grammar School, West Cornforth-born Mr Vaulks began his local government career as a trainee accountant in 1965 with the former Spennymoor Urban District Council.

He worked for Northumberland and Sunderland councils before returning as chief accountant for the then Sedgefield District Council in 1974.

He worked as treasurer and director of finance between 1981 and 1996 before taking the council's top job.

Looking back over his career, Mr Vaulks said: "It's been a pleasure and a privilege to serve the residents of Sedgefield Borough, especially as I have lived here all of my life."

Mr Vaulks was eligible to retire in April 2007, but decided to bring forward his retirement to help his replacement prepare for local elections in 2007.

Sedgefield Borough Council leader Bob Fleming said: "Norman Vaulks has been exceptional as he helped to steer the authority through a period of unprecedented change.

"Norman has been a great ambassador for Sedgefield Borough Council and, under the rigorous scrutiny of the Audit Commission's comprehensive performance assessment, has steered us to be independently recognised as a good council."

Mr Vaulks has been a key figure in the social and economic regeneration of the borough as chairman of the taskforce formed to help the area recover from the closure of Rothmans' Spennymoor plant in 1999.

The father of two, who has two grandchildren, is looking forward to spending more time with his wife Marjorie and family and hopes to continue watching Sunderland play top-flight football.