Two years ago I stood down as a West Sussex County Councillor. I did so for several reasons, but one of the biggest being that I had become convinced that the way the council was run made it impossible for councillors to deliver for residents and that common sense counted for little with the leadership.
Last week, Louise Goldsmith, Leader of West Sussex County Council, resigned after a decade in the role. It would be mean-spirited not to acknowledge that I believe she felt what she was doing as leader was in the best interests of the area, that there were times she did help us to genuinely improve things in Crawley–particularly around economic development, and that the problems which led to her downfall began before she took on the role.
Nonetheless, her approach to leadership made a bad situation much worse, to the extent that central government is about to take one of the council’s major services away due to its appalling condition. The question now is what, if anything, the new leader will do to get things back on track?
I won’t repeat the stream-of-consciousness blog I posted on my website following news of her resignation, but I do believe most of the council’s problems can be summed up in one sentence and resolved with fairly minor changes, the sentence being: the county council is too big and runs too many services for one person to control everything. Certainly, that’s now how I run Crawley, and our geographical footprint is much smaller.
What does this mean in practice? Appointing competent officers, not just people who agree with the leader, and trusting them to do their jobs. Delegating decisions to cabinet members and working to support them, rather than the other way around. Reversing the centralisation of decision-making at the council so that all councillors can at least vote on big changes, rather than Cabinet resolving them by email. Lastly, restoring relationships with other councils and organisations which almost ended last year, if West Sussex are ready to behave as a partner again my door is certainly open.