Fire chief to become county council’s top officer

Sean Ruth chief fire officer (photo submitted) SUS-160222-154140001
Sean Ruth chief fire officer (photo submitted) SUS-160222-154140001

West Sussex’s fire chief is set to become West Sussex County Council’s most senior officer on a temporary basis.

Sean Ruth, who is chief fire officer at West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service alongside his council role as executive director for communities and public protection, will be acting chief operating officer (COO) when the current holder Gill Steward leaves at Easter to become chief executive for the London Borough of Bexley.

In the last few months Mr Ruth has been deputy COO and will hold the top job at the council until a chief executive is appointed.

Two years ago the county council’s last chief executive Kieran Stigant stood down and the role was abolished.

Instead two new posts of a COO and transformation director were created, roles which were later merged in September 2014.

Plans to re-establish the chief executive post were approved by councillors last Friday (February 19).

Louise Goldsmith, leader of WSCC said: “West Sussex County Council is in a strong position to be taken forward by a chief executive after the planned period of transformation.

“We have developed exciting plans for the economy including a significant capital investment in Horsham. We now have a £600 million five-year capital investment programme to improve infrastructure and schools in West Sussex. And the 3SC devolution proposal is proceeding and we are working well with the 28 partners involved.

“We are a council with ambition and we have a clear plan for the future focusing on the needs of our residents and communities. We now need a chief executive to take us on the next part of this exciting journey.”

An appointment committee will carry out the recruitment process and the salary, subject to negotiation with the preferred candidate, will be ‘pitched at a level that delivers value for money but is still competitive to secure the best person for the job’, according to the council.

Mrs Goldsmith added: “Gill’s role was to transform how we work to ensure better value for taxpayers’ money and improved services for residents.”

She continued: “With the transformation programme nearing completion, we are now planning to re-establish the post of chief executive to drive forward those changes and ensure the priorities of our Future West Sussex plan are delivered.

“The post of chief operating officer was always designed to be an interim measure. Gill has not only led a programme of £53 million savings but has also implemented changes to the management structure which have resulted in savings of £7.5 million.

“The time is now right to find someone to take us forward to this next chapter.”

Last month Labour county councillor Michael Jones said the U-turn over the chief executive post showed WSCC has ‘lost its direction’.

Meanwhile James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group at WSCC, suggested the authority had been ‘somewhat rudderless’ in its two years without a chief executive

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