County council leader states she has the mandate to remove chief executive post

One week ago the leader of West Sussex County Council announced the local authority’s chief executive would be standing down at the end of the month, and the post would be dissolved thereafter.

Louise Goldsmith.
Louise Goldsmith.

Kieran Stigant’s departure after three years in the top job and 22 in total at County Hall was met with strong criticism by Louise Goldsmith’s political adversaries.

The leaders of the opposition UKIP, Liberal Democrat and Labour groups all called on Mrs Goldsmith to ‘consider her position’ while questioning her mandate as council and Conservative group leader to make such a decision.

UKIP’s Mike Glennon said: “The Conservatives are the governing group but they act with absolute autonomy and often thinly veiled contempt for the views of the other parties.

“I believe she should be considering her position given that 62 per cent of the electorate did not support her party back in May and I think her intensely autocratic leadership style is not only alienating the UKIP and other groups but also many of her own councillors.”

Dr James Walsh agreed, stating on behalf of the Liberal Democrats: “Lousie Goldsmith should be considering her position, because this has not been discussed or the council consulted in any way.”

Last week Mrs Goldsmith declined to comment, but in her online blog published this morning she states: “I have heard comments made about whether I have a mandate to make such a decision. I do. The 2001 Local Government Act gives the Leader of the Council the remit to deal with such issues.”

The blog puts Mrs Goldsmth’s decision to restructure top-level management of the local authority in a wider context.

It also reveals West Sussex County Council will not be raising council tax for the coming year, in line with national Conservative policy.

The council leader says: “Last week I announced that West Sussex County Council would be making the post of Chief Executive redundant and instead replace it with a Chief Operating officer and a Transformation Director, the latter on a temporary contract for nine to 18 months.

“Over the last 18 months there has been considerable work – indeed it is on-going - to ensure the Council is in the very best position to meet the many challenges that come with having less and less income. This is not easy for any local politician - whatever colour - but this is the very much the responsibility of the majority Group of the Council.

“Last July, the newly elected County Council agreed three key priority areas of focus for the organisation. Start of Life, giving our children the very best start in life. The Economy, building a strong economy and creating jobs and Later Life, helping to support our elderly population live as independently as possible.

“These priorities will guide us and every decision we make as we move to a commissioning council model in the coming months and identify where to spend our reducing grants from Government.”

Mrs Goldsmith also clarifies in relation to Mr Stigant leaving with a £118,000 redundancy package and £88,000 in lieu of notice period: “Nobody has been sacked. There have been no arguments or disagreements. It has simply been agreed, by both myself and Kieran Stigant, that now is the right time for change.

“Kieran has given twenty-two years of diligent and loyal service to the County Council, three of those as Chief Executive.

“I am, and will always remain grateful to him for his tireless commitment to both the Council and to West Sussex.

“This decision was certainly not made on a whim. It was made after careful consideration, long conversations between myself and Kieran and after taking on board advice and guidance from a number of experts.

“As well as Kieran, it also involved the agreement of the Cabinet and the Chairman of the Council.”

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