Seeking the right DCS for East Sussex

Published: 18th March 2021

Seeking the right DCS for East Sussex

Becky Shaw, Chief Executive, discusses East Sussex and her aspirations for the next Director of Children's Services

Set on the south coast of England, East Sussex is an unspoiled landscape of coast and countryside, with a collection of vibrant towns and villages peppered across the county.

But while the seaside and South Downs may offer a fantastic quality of life, there is more than meets the eye. ‘East Sussex is the most fascinating mixture,’ the county council chief executive Becky Shaw tells The MJ. ‘It is unlike any other part of the south east in terms of the contrast in the areas.

‘There is the historic grandeur of places like Lewes, Battle and Rye, then you have the more challenged towns like Hastings, Hailsham and Newhaven. Four out of the five districts are priority one on the Levelling Up Fund. We suffer from all the coastal town deprivation you would expect to see from some northern seaside towns, but surrounded by the more affluent south east.’

She describes the county as having a ‘more maverick’ side, a twinkle in its eyes that sets it apart from some of its more wealthy neighbours. The unofficial motto of Sussex, ‘we wunt be druv’ [we will not be driven] is a true testament to a spirit of quiet rebellion and determination.

In an area where the majority of the economy is made up of micro businesses, and the county council is the largest employer, the post-COVID, post-Brexit county will focus on the opportunity afforded by its connectivity, to France, to Gatwick and to London and its natural capital assets.

As an authority East Sussex CC prides itself on being ‘open, honest and evidence based’, the chief executive says. ‘We are determined to make best use of all the resources available and are creative in our partnerships both within the council and with our partners.’ There is a strong team-based approach, with the whole council pulling in the same direction and East Sussex partners working well together to support its residents, businesses and communities.

With current incumbent, Stuart Gallimore, retiring in the summer, the council is looking for his successor. The children’s services department is rated as outstanding by Ofsted, with strong relationships and local partnerships. However, that doesn’t mean there is not work to be done nor a sense of complacency – far from it.

Continuous improvement is woven into the organisation’s DNA, with a strong focus on ‘purposeful evolution, not revolution’ – Becky says she doesn’t believe in ‘transformation’, but instead opts for always striving to be better.

She says: ‘This is a county that has really strong foundations and networks. There is a strong platform to build on, but there is a whole series of challenges going forward.’

When it comes to the future of children’s services post-COVID, she is characteristically honest: ‘We can only see the early signs. A lot of our referrals in East Sussex are driven by deprivation, domestic abuse and also mental health problems so we are only starting to see what impact the pandemic has had so far.’

‘This is a county that has really
strong foundations and networks.
There is a strong platform to build
on, but there is a whole series of
challenges going forward.’

The council has learned a lot about the way it works during the pandemic. It has pushed forward on digital working and, typically, it wants to continue that evolution.

Becky says she is open to candidates from different backgrounds, but she is clear on who she is looking for: ‘I want someone who is relentless and restless in terms of what they want to achieve for our children and families. But I don’t want a hero, this job is for someone who knows they need to work in partnership with the rest of the council and our partners.

‘It also needs to be someone who can really understand and recognise that we are a county of real contrasts, someone who can work flexibly with different communities and be able to understand their different needs.

‘The director of children’s services will be working as part of a small corporate management team and will need to be someone who can work towards the goals of the whole council,’ she says.

‘I want someone who will be passionate about helping children reach their potential, and really focused on hearing the voice of the child.’

Becky Shaw, Chief Executive, East Sussex County Council

Becky Shaw, Chief Executive, East Sussex County Council

First published in the Municipal Journal, 18 March 2021