West Sussex County Council has been ‘somewhat rudderless’ in its two years without a chief executive, the Lib Dem group leader has suggested.
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 chief executive post due to the need for a ‘more permanent arrangement for a single point of officer accountability’, a move that was branded as a ‘U-turn’ by the Labour group.
James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East), leader of the Lib Dem group, said: “The whole saga at West Sussex has been bizarre.
“As I said after [leader] Louise Goldsmith parted company with her second CEO ‘to lose one chief executive is unfortunate, but to lose two seems like carelessness’.
“The pay-off settlements for the first two (Mark Hammond and Kieran Stigant) were eye-wateringly large sums to the local taxpayer.
“Then there was the naïve expectation that a large operation like WSCC could get by with a cheaper alternative such as a chief operating officer.
“What I think has now dawned on the council leader is that a large organisation needs stability as well as a good chief.
“West Sussex has been somewhat rudderless, with constant re-organisation and loss of expertise and morale, and to a certain extent not taken seriously by other organisations inside and outside local government.
“West Sussex needs an inspirational chief executive who can bring stability, restore lost morale and re-build experienced service delivery teams at a time of unremitting cutbacks. It will not be easy.”
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.
A county council 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’.
Although the report said a ‘provisional salary range has been identified’, when WSCC was asked what this was a spokesman said: “We are reviewing the salary range and no decisions have been made yet.”
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