AN ‘IDEOLOGICAL experiment’ was lambasted recently, as the county council scrapped its chief executive role.
West Sussex County Council bade farewell to former chief executive Kieran Stigant at its full council meeting on February 14, with his two successors waiting in the wings.
Liberal Democrat James Walsh was vocal in his frustration at the way the decision was made.
“This is quite an important decision, nevertheless we’ve been presented with a fait accompli over it,” he told the chamber, adding: “It came as a complete shock to members of the county council, right across the political divide.”
He also described it as a ‘blow to morale’ among county council staff.
Mr Stigant leaves his role after three years. He took over in 2010 following the departure of previous chief executive Mark Hammond.
Cllr Walsh added he was shocked to receive news of the change via email from the leader of the council Louise Goldsmith in January.
Labour councillor Brian Quinn agreed, saying it took many by surprise.
“We deserved to be consulted,” he said.
“It’s an ideological experiment with the residents of West Sussex as guinea pigs.”
Councillors also claimed the question of whether Mr Stigant left of his own accord or not remained unanswered.
The £175,000-salary chief executive role has been split into two roles – a chief operating officer and a transformation director.
The county council says the restructure will save £25,000 a year.
The transformation director’s salary will be £130,000, and an extra £10,000 has been added on to the chief operating officer, who has been promoted to the new role from within the council.
Mr Stigant left his post on January 31.
Council chairman Amanda Jupp said there were ‘confidential conversations’ between Cllr Goldsmith, cabinet and Mr Stigant about restructuring of the council.
Cllr Goldsmith added: “For the past two-and-a-half years we’ve been looking at the shape and form of the county council and Kieran has been involved with that – designing the future council.”
The change was voted through, with Labour and Liberal Democrats opposed and UKIP abstaining.
Immediately afterwards, the council approved the appointment of Diane Ashby as head of paid service and Gill Steward was appointed to the post of transformation director.
Councillors placed on record their thanks to Mr Stigant for the work he did for West Sussex.