Sheffield needs to be more ambitious, says new council chief executive

The new chief executive of Sheffield Council says the city isn't "punching its weight" and needs to be more ambitious.

Monday, 15th February 2021, 12:24 pm

Kate Josephs has arrived at Sheffield Town Hall with an impressive CV - she spent almost three years in Washington working for the US Federal Government before heading to Whitehall to be a senior leader in the Department for Education, HM Treasury and the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit.

It's quite a switch to move into local government but she describes it as a "big deal".

"Sheffield is a fabulous city, I love it. I grew up in Doncaster so for me, coming home to South Yorkshire is something I've always wanted to do," she explains via a video call.

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Kate Josephs, the new chief executive of Sheffield City Council.
Kate Josephs, the new chief executive of Sheffield City Council.

"I care about this part of the country, I want to play a role in making sure we have the brightest possible future for the people and for our place.

"It's funny because the only people who've said to me that it's a strange move are people from Sheffield so make of that what you will. I wouldn't have wanted to be a chief executive anywhere else, as much as it was about doing this role, it was also about how much I want to be part of the future for this city."

The pandemic is obviously all consuming but she's keen to look ahead to the future.

"I've been in the role five weeks, I'm still reflecting and I'm still listening. This is not about my detailed plan of action.

"We need to think about what Sheffield is going to need coming out of the pandemic and that's something we're not going to do on our own as a council.

"There's a feeling we're not punching our weight and we've got to fix that. It's about trying to be optimistic and hopeful, to be more ambitious and focus on the future rather than the past and the negative stories we tell ourselves.

"It's about creating the conditions, building the partnerships and kick-starting the conversations that get us into that mindset.”

"We have a really good opportunity to reset our relationship with citizens and communities and to aspire to be an organisation that's open, visible and accessible.

"Working at a national level gives you the opportunity to see the full sweep of what's happening across the country and in some cases across the world. It's important we shout about what we're great at and look for inspiration in other places."

When asked if she'll use her contacts to pull in some favours for the city, she is firm in her reply: "Civil servants abide by the civil service code so it would not be appropriate for me to be using those connections and trusted former colleagues in that way, it wouldn't be right.

"I'm absolutely unequivocal that there is no way I'm going to be doing anything to get special favours because that's not how it works and it's not what I'm about. I'm a public servant and it's very important that I'm committed to impartiality.

"That being said, what I bring to this role is an understanding of how things get done in government because I've been there and I've done that.

"Sometimes it can seem a bit mysterious and obtuse and it's not clear who actually makes decisions and how they're made and if we're thinking about how to make sure our voices are heard, I think I can help with that."

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We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.