‘Stability already beginning to appear’ says new county council leader

“I recognise it’s a big challenge and we have some significant work to do.”

These were the words of the new leader of West Sussex County Council as he took over the role which has been described by some as a ‘poisoned chalice’.

Paul Marshall replaced Louise Goldsmith at a meeting of the full council on Friday.

Mrs Goldsmith resigned on October 4, on the same day a draft report was leaked suggesting the authority should lose control of its children’s services department.

Both Mr Marshall and interim director of children’s services John Readman were praised in the draft report as ‘major assets’ in the fight to improve the services.

As well as leader, Mr Marshall will be lead member for children – and has no intention of easing back on the improvement work already carried out.

He said Mr Readman had put together a very strong team, adding: “I’m very confident now that the programme of improving children’s services will start and has started and will continue to be.

“As leader that will be one of my challenges, to make sure that we deliver children’s services along with our fire and rescue challenge as well as our growing adult services.”

He will be supported by Jacquie Russell (East Grinstead South & Ashurst Wood), who was moved over to cabinet member for children and young people, having served a brief stint as cabinet member for fire & rescue and communities.

She will be replaced by Duncan Crow (Tilgate & Furnace Green).

Nigel Jupp (Southwater & Nuthurst) will replace Richard Burrett (Pound Hill) as cabinet member for education and skills.

All other Cabinet positions remain unchanged.

When asked about the high turnover of staff at County Hall, Mr Marshall said: “I need to work closely with the chief executive to understand how we can bring stability. I think that stability is already beginning to appear. We have good people coming in.”

The acting chief executive is director of place Lee Harris, who took over the day-to-day running of the council in September after it was announced that £190,000 a year chief executive Nathan Elvery was ‘currently away from duties’.

Since then, the council has refused to answer questions about Mr Elvery – including whether he is still being paid – or whether three directors left the council when he went ‘away from duties’.

Mr Marshall was also asked how he would improve the culture at County Hall.

He said: “We need to start listening, I think that’s the first thing we have got to do.

“There’s a lot of pressure on our staff throughout the county. There’s been some external scrutiny some of which, namely the fire and rescue services, has been made public, and we need to recognise the pressure the staff that our staff are put under and we need to listen to them, what are the challenges and how can we help them and resource them to deliver good service. That’s one of the key approaches we’ll be taking.”

Mr Marshall has represented Storrington since 2017 and has been a Horsham district councillor since 2015.