Having a joint chief executive officer controlling both West and East Sussex County Council has been described as ‘positive and progressive’.
Members of West Sussex County Council’s governance committee met on Monday (July 6) to review the arrangement and discuss how things had gone since Becky Shaw took over in January.
Leader Cllr Paul Marshall said her appointment had worked ‘extremely positively’, with ‘significant work’ carried out around decision making, the quality of leadership and the relationship between councillors and officers.
Ms Shaw took on the dual role following the departure of Nathan Elvery, who left the council in November, after two months away from duties on full pay.
The use of a joint CEO was triggered by the ‘inadequate’ rating given to the council’s children’s services by Ofsted, which led to the services being taken from the authority and placed in the hands of an independent trust.
Cllr Marshall said: “Becky Shaw has been very significant in providing real leadership confidence in this council. That was demonstrated very quickly when we were able to recruit a director of children’s services.
“Regardless of Covid-19, we have still been committed to making the significant improvements in children’s services.”
Liberal Democrats leader Cllr Dr James Walsh said it was impossible for him to express an opinion about Ms Shaw’s impact as he and other backbenchers had been ‘largley excluded from any direct involvement in the day-to-day affairs of the county council’ since the start of the pandemic.
He was less than impressed with the ‘excessively brief’ 3.5-page report presented to the meeting and it was agreed that a fuller report – complete with staff feedback – would be prepared for the next meeting.
While Labour leader Cllr Michael Jones said many of his worries about Ms Shaw’s appointment had been laid to rest, he did have concerns about the amount of pressure placed on her time and said the council needed to ‘keep a watchful eye on that’.
One of the aims of the arrangement with East Sussex was to prove to the government that West Sussex had the capability and capacity to improve.
When asked about this by Cllr Jones, Cllr Marshall said he had received ‘positive feedback and encouragement’ from the Secretary of State and a report on the progress made would be sent to him shortly.
He added: “With the challenges this council has had, overlaid with Covid-19, it’s beginning to demonstrate that we are developing a very robust leadership team that’s able to take our challenges forward.”
By Karen Dunn, local democracy reporter