Southend-on-Sea Borough Council

Recent Case Studies

Sarah was Interim Director of Enterprise, Tourism and Environment at this Essex Unitary from early November 2006 to mid- February 2007, while the Council made a permanent appointment.

This was one of four new strategic director roles, created by a large-scale restructuring in 2006, three of which had interim postholders.  The Chief Executive and Leader were determined that the interim managers were not only caretakers, but were themselves important parts of the changes the Council needed to make.


Sarah's role, running a front line service department of about 200 people, with associated budgets and service budgets (capital and revenue) of some £10m.  The department encompassed a broad range of place-making services:

  • all planning functions:  preparation for the Public Inquiry on the Local Development Framework, all development control and conservation;
  • all transport functions:  monitoring the Local Transport Plan, managing transport services including parking, safety and buses, highways maintenance and the large contract to deliver strategic and engineering works;
  • all waste functions: incorporating preparation for a major new PFI contract in partnership with Essex County Council, collection, treatment, recycling and disposal, together with street cleansing and graffiti removal
  • public protection and statutory functions such as health and safety, pest control and trading standards
  • property services for the Council
  • design and architectural management, urban planning and conservation
  • project development eg re-using Chalkwell Hall as an important arts base and the sale of two car parks to English Partnerships as the first step in creating a new quarter for the town centre. 

The brief for the interim appointment was succinct and clear.  Sarah was asked, first and foremost, to promote cultural change, together with delivering the basics of a budget, performance management and professional advice to members, and thirdly to improve relationships between the department and others (including the rest of the Council), particularly the town's Urban Regeneration Company.  In addition there were specific projects that needed to move forward during this period.

At the time, the department had no second tier officers, and there were two interim managers in place, concentrating on the planning and waste activities.  The services involved had never had a woman manager at third tier or above; the department had a history of introversion and an acute form of the 'silo' mentality, with staff focussed on their own particular professional area with little regard for overlaps or tensions with other domains.  The previous senior management had taken all responsibility for the bigger view, alongside budgetary and staffing matters, leaving the remaining group managers very exposed on their departure.

Sarah immediately created a departmental management team that incorporated all the group managers, met every week and was mandatory.  This new team, for the first time, discussed matters of corporate relevance, and was properly recorded and disseminated.  In addition, Sarah used this time specifically for training and developing corporate knowledge.  Meetings alternated between training and development, and discussion of strategic issues such as equalities, the budget or the development framework.

These changes, together with Sarah's commitment to communication and modelling new ways of working, made a fast and visible change in the department, commented on by staff, colleagues and partners alike.  Any such cultural change always takes time to become fully embedded, but Sarah's work in her interim tenure set out a new path for the department.

In addition, Sarah created a new budget structure, understood by service managers and members, and realistically deliverable.  She maintained performance;  in certain key areas, notably recycling of household waste (up from under 20% to 29%) it significantly improved during this period.  Relationships across the Council and with partners were also enhanced, as Sarah rebuilt communications with the URC, the University and others.  Working with English Partnerships, the Arts Council and EEDA she also progressed important regeneration projects for the town.

Rob Tinlin, CE of Southend Council, said, "I am delighted with the work Sarah did during her time with us.  She made a huge difference to the Council, challenged a lot of traditional thinking in ways which were very positive and laid a sound foundation for continued development."