'˜U-turn' on chief executive post shows county council has '˜lost its direction'

A U-turn on having a chief executive post shows West Sussex County Council has '˜lost its direction', a Labour councillor has suggested.

Kieran Stigant, WSCC's last chief executive, pictured in 2013
Kieran Stigant, WSCC's last chief executive, pictured in 2013

The last chief executive Kieran Stigant stood down in January 2014 and instead of appointing a replacement the council created the two new posts of a chief operating officer and a transformation director, roles which were later merged in September 2014.

Now the authority is proposing to reinstate the post of chief executive, a move along with ‘constant organisational turmoil, and frequently changing senior managers’ that has led Michael Jones (Lab, Crawley Central and Southgate) to suggest WSCC has ‘lost its direction’.

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Mr Jones said: “The West Sussex Tories announced with great fanfare two years ago that the county council was to become a ‘commissioning council’, with the entirely ideological goal to outsource virtually all council services, rather than running them ‘in-house’.

Labour county councillor Michael Jones has called the decision to reinstate a chief executive post at WSCC a 'U-turn' and a sign that the authority has 'lost its direction'

“The creation of the chief operating officer in place of the chief executive was done to facilitate that entire process.

“Labour councillors, including myself, warned them at the time that they were recklessly using West Sussex residents as guinea pigs in this ideological experiment, and that such a new method of operating would not necessarily be as effective running the council.

“This U-turn is a grudging admission by the Tory leadership that their experiment has been a failure: the dream to become a commissioning council that systematically privatises every service hasn’t worked in reality, but you can rest assured plenty of public money has been spent fruitlessly in trying to make it work.

“And where has it left the county council? At a critical time in the county council’s history with unprecedented financial pressure on services, two of the most senior members of the West Sussex management team are set to leave, many of the directors have not been appointed or are still interim appointments, or are recent appointments as they replace former officers who have left the council.

Gill Steward, chief operating officer of West Sussex County Council, and Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council,

“It is no way to run anything, never mind a council. We need stability at this crucial time.”

Since the current chief operating officer Gill Steward, who is on an interim contract, is due to leave the county council in the spring her post is set to be deleted and a new chief executive officer role created.

On the salary level, a Governance Committee report reads: “It is proposed that the county council takes a prudent but realistic approach to ensure that it attracts and retains the right candidate and that the reward package is closely aligned to the delivery of a set of objectives that are monitored closely.

“Following provisional market testing a provisional salary range has been identified for consideration in the event that the proposal for the role is approved.”

There would be no performance bonus in addition to the ‘substantive’ salary proposed, with the setting and delivery of objectives and outcomes agreed by WSCC’s leader, chairman, and cabinet member for finance.

The report argues that the two new roles created in 2014 had delivered ‘what was required’ and a ‘more permanent arrangement for a single point of officer accountability should be made’.

The Governance Committee will decide whether or not to endorse the proposed changes to the council’s corporate leadership Monday January 25, and then an Appointing Committee will handle the hiring process.

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