Merton Council

Recent Case Studies

Sarah went to Merton in September 2008, as interim Head of Sustainable Communities.  When the then director moved on, the Chief Executive asked her to take on the role for six months, while the Council made a permanent appointment.

As Director of Environment & Regeneration for six months, Sarah ran a department of over 750 staff, with a gross budget of some £50m, and responsibility for some of the most popular, and most overlooked, services in the borough.   Waste collection, parking enforcement, Merton's much loved parks,  and highways maintenance were among the many day to day services.

Sarah kept a steady hand on the already high performance in this four star authority, as well as managing some big changes.  During her tenure, 80% of the borough changed their rubbish collection day;  by the time she left, collection rates were back to their normal high standards, and improving steadily

Sarah's time at the borough was marked by several major events, not least the snow of February 2009.  Overnight, the capital turned white;  Sarah found herself coordinating Merton's response.  The borough's residents were pleased with the results, as rubbish was collected the very next day, almost every school stayed open, and the council's website kept everyone up to date.  Sarah says, "the staff were fantastic.  The drivers, grave-diggers, care staff and everyone else worked so hard to keep all our services going.  I was so proud to be part of the team."

Some of the biggest challenges came from the financial and managerial context.  Merton is not a rich borough; the Council made significant savings in 09/10, which Sarah delivered in her department, and faces even bigger demands in 2010/11.  Sarah laid the groundwork for what will be a very difficult year, working closely with staff and politicians.  At the same time, the department saw big turnover in its top management.  Sarah led the team through a period of instability, ensuring strong communications and visible leadership.  She supported the Council in recruiting the new director, and made sure that two new second tier posts were filled with strong candidates.

Of course, this was an extraordinary time to be a regeneration professional;  Sarah joined Merton just two weeks before the Lehman brothers bankruptcy and the vertiginous restructuring of the economy that has followed.  Sarah immediately grasped the opportunities for Merton, as a place which has protected significant parts of its employment land, but needs to improve the pay and skills of both local people and local jobs.   These insights inform the borough's new economic development strategy.

Merton is also working hard to deliver its own planning policy framework through the Core Strategy.  Sarah inherited a stalled process and got it going again, so that it was published for consultation in summer 2009.  The Council is also in an innovative and successful partnership with three neighbouring boroughs, to deliver both waste treatment, including an £112m PFI, and a joint plan for waste-related land use.  Sarah played an important role in moving both these forward.  She worked closely with politicians and local community groups, to bring a wider understanding of the processes, and enable local people to make their views known during the 2009 consultation.

Ged Curran is Chief Executive of Merton.  He said, "it was great to have Sarah with us.  She made a huge impact in a short space of time, and has helped to move us forward on several fronts.  She showed great commitment to the organisation and the place, and was really creative in the way she addressed every challenge we set her."