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Dawn goes Down Under

Dawn goes Down Under

🕔11.Jul 2019

It might appear that Birmingham city council changes its chief executives more regularly than its bins.

News that Dawn Baxendale is leaving the local authority after little more than a year in the role certainly came as a surprise, writes Kevin Johnson. 

News emerged not long before Sir Kim Darroch announced his own departure from Washington DC. Unfortunately, Chamberlain Files has not received word that the two stories are in any way related.

Chief executives have left the top job at the council in a variety of circumstances, but this is the first time one has bolted straight to the opposite side of the world after a stint at the Council House.

The tributes quickly followed news of Ms Baxendale’s departure to become chief executive of Christchurch city council in New Zealand. One of the people she beat to the role last year, Jo Miller, has already been appointed to run Hutt city council on the Pacific island nation.

Council Leader, Councillor Ian Ward commented:

Dawn is moving to New Zealand as the role in Christchurch is a unique work opportunity that she couldn’t pass-up and I’d like to wish her family well as they begin this exciting new chapter.

When she joined the council 16 months ago we were entering a new phase in our improvement journey and, thanks in no small part to Dawn’s determination and tenacity, we have made significant steps forward. I know the team she is leaving behind will continue with that focus and build on the strong improvement foundations that have now been laid.

In Dawn’s time as Chief Executive we have progressed in our preparations for the Commonwealth Games, launched the Clean Air Zone and seen improvements to children’s services for the first time in 10 years.

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Local Government and Communities also commented:

Leader of the Conservative Group Cllr Robert Alden added:

It is very sad news that Dawn Baxendale is to leave her role at Birmingham, in her brief time here she has made a huge impact, helping, with her senior management team, to start to unpick the mess the administration had made and I know she will be sorely missed. The Conservative Group wishes her and her family all the best in her new role and thank her for her service.

The comments had the ring of testimonials issued after years of successful service, rather than months in the most challenging job in local government.

That period has been dominated by disastrous handling of two industrial disputes. Relations between the Labour-led council and major unions reached an all time low.

Dawn Baxendale said:

I have had a wonderful time in Birmingham and want to thank everyone in the city and region who have made me feel welcome. I will be leaving behind a stronger senior officer team who have a broad depth of experience and knowledge, and I know are committed to continuing the council’s improvement journey.

In particular I want to thank the partners in the city who have been so encouraging in welcoming me, and the council, back into important conversations to make the city the best it can be for citizens.

The role in Christchurch is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it has been a dream for my family to live in New Zealand. I will watch the journey that Birmingham is on from afar and cannot wait to see, with the rest of the world, the amazing Games the city will put on in three years.

Reports from New Zealand indicate Ms Baxendale will be paid nearly $450,000, around £240k.

Coverage down under says:

Her track record shows that she is committed to working collaboratively with business and a range of communities.

This may come as news to a number of leading figures in Birmingham, some of whom have described Ms Baxendale as “anonymous” to Chamberlain Files.

It was also reported that the outgoing chief executive has:

…turned around failing social services and has been able to attract massive private sector investment into successful city development.

Positive comments on the city’s investment record may be of interest to Waheed Nazir, the city’s director of inclusive growth, who may well be a candidate to replace the New Zealand bound chief.

Whilst the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel has wound down, its final report was a long way short of saying the Council has successfully and fully implemented the Kerskale Report recommendations. Meanwhile, the external auditor issued a third set of statutory recommendations earlier this year.

Council: Panel stands down, but recommends another one pop up

The country’s largest local authority is again searching for a new chief executive. As well as potential internal candidates such Mr Nazir and Assistant Chief Executive Jonathan Tew, early names doing the rounds include Coventry boss Martin Reeves and Manchester chief Joanne Roney.

The appointment of another chief executive presents a major challenge for Cllr Ward, so soon after he led on the selection of Ms Baxendale. Given the continuing challenges at the Council House, from ongoing problems in its waste management service and transition from the roads contract with Amey to improving governance and delivering the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022, the Cabinet will need to ensure a CEO is found who can successfully manage the organisation for at least the next three years.

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