Concerns over pressure on chief executive to be shared by East and West Sussex County Councils

A merger of East and West Sussex County Councils would be ‘very unlikely’, despite the authorities sharing a chief executive officer.

In a partnership aimed at helping West Sussex to improve, Becky Shaw will run both authorities as joint chief executive from January 6.

The decision was made on the back of the disastrous Ofsted report which led to children’s services being taken from West Sussex and put in the hands of an independent trust.

At a meeting of the full council, Bill Acraman (Con, Worth Forest) said: “I would hate to see any merger of East Sussex with West Sussex. We already have a joint police authority across the two and potentially, I suppose, one could look in that direction for the fire service.

“But one would not want to see any move in any direction for any other part of the service.”

When asked about Mr Acraman’s concerns, leader Paul Marshall said a merger was ‘very unlikely’ and that both councils would remain separate with their own management teams.

He added: “This opportunity for us is around asking East Sussex to help us in our improvement around our corporate challenges.”

While no one at West Sussex doubted Ms Shaw’s skills, there were some concerns about the pressure placed on her to cope with the increased workload – and that having a ‘part-time’ chief executive would not be good enough.

Liberal Democrat leader Dr James Walsh said to share a chief executive at any time would be ‘questionable’, let alone doing it ‘at a time when we need the greatest stability and the greatest concentration on getting this authority back on track’.

He said: “Should we not be looking for a full-time chief executive for this authority rather than a part-time 50-50 time.”

Mr Marshall told members the change had been discussed with Ms Shaw, East Sussex, the Department for Education and the local government minister over the past six weeks

He said: “I need to assure everybody that this is not something that’s done on the spur of the moment. Since my appointment as leader, this has been one of the major challenges that needs to be addressed, to begin stability around this organisation.

“It has to start at the top.”

Mr Marshall added: “This is about finding the right solution and the right leadership that can tackle and address our challenges.”