A novice could not do my job says Peterborough City Council chief executive

It may be the biggest challenge she has faced, but the chief executive of Peterborough City Council believes there are strong benefits to taking on the same role with Cambridgeshire County Council.

Sunday, 31st July 2016, 10:00 am
Gillian Beasley at the Peterborough Film Awards 2014

Echoing Gordon Brown’s famous line that it is “no time for a novice”, Gillian Beasley admits becoming the first chief executive to share the role between unitary and county authorities is so demanding that a rookie could not take it on.

But despite her 70-hour working weeks she believes Peterborough will benefit through more money, less bureaucracy and better services from her widening her reach into Shire Hall.

Originally a one year trial, which was met with reservations back in November, the job merger was made permanent last month with no councillor on either authority voting against the move.

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Mrs Beasley, too, is also in favour of merging the chief executive roles into one, despite seeing her social life disappear quicker than the England football team at a major tournament.

Yet she is enthusiastic about being in charge of both councils and insists that she is very much enjoying the task at hand.

“The first six months were very challenging and very long hours,” said Mrs Beasley, who lives on the outskirts of Peterborough. “The excitement is working for two of the fastest growing counties. The opportunities of that are what really excites me about this job.

“I knew there were going to be opportunities for joined working and you start to identify really good practices in both councils. I think it’s been beneficial for officers here to build good relationships.”

Mrs Beasley, whose salary of £170,000 is now being split between the two authorities, admits her work load has increased since taking on the county council brief.

“I do have to work harder and longer hours. It’s about seeing it as one job, organising well, having good people around me, being experienced,” she said.

“I’ve been a chief executive since 2002 and I have a good sense of knowing what to keep my eyes on.”

Mrs Beasley also believes her experience is vital in ensuring that she can combine both roles effectively.

“It’s not a job you would do as a first time chief executive,” she said. “I’ve got support from officers and politicians and it’s geographically close. Some joint chief executives do it over a wide authority and it’s extraordinarily difficult to do that.

“It’s challenging and tough work but I’m motivated to do it because it can make a difference to the people of Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.

“It’s challenged me like nothing else in my life. What motives me is the potential for what we can do.

“I love my job. I would not do this if I did not believe in what I’m doing. The bit I love about the job I’m doing the most is working with the people.”

One concern about the merged chief executive role is potential conflicts of interest, in particular if a business is debating whether to set up in Peterborough or Cambridge.

“Their decision is based on a number of different factors,” said Mrs Beasley. “One is how they can work with a local authority. Wherever they choose as a commercial best bet, they recognise two proactive local authorities they want to work with.”

The city council chief executive said potential conflicts of interest had been identified, and that if such an occasion arose she would represent one side and a senior member of the other council would represent the other. But she insisted that no such problems had arisen so far and she could not see one arising in the future.

Instead, Mrs Beasley is eyeing greater efficiencies - “Why would we not share?” - and more money in the city council’s coffers.

“If you start to join up you will save money. We can put more money into the front-line. We do not want massive officer bureaucracies,” she added.