South Tyneside Council's new leadership team set out plans for borough
South Tyneside Council’s new leadership team have set out their priorities for supporting residents and businesses as they steer the borough out of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last year the local authority faced upheaval following the sudden resignation of council leader Iain Malcolm, only weeks after the retirement of chief executive Martin Swales.
Although deputy leader Tracey Dixon stepped in as the council’s leader and announced a new cabinet team, the local authority was left without a chief executive for almost a year.
Following a recruitment process, former assistant chief executive of Birmingham City Council, Jonathan Tew, has now filled the role.
With experience in public health, community safety, policy and strategy and time leading Covid-19 response work in Birmingham, he hopes to use his experiences for the benefit of South Tyneside.
After starting his career in local government at Durham County Council, Mr Tew said his return to the North East felt like a “homecoming moment”.
He said: “Having met Cllr Dixon and the deputy leader here prior to the process and then through the process, it felt like a fantastic moment to forge a new team for the next phase of what South Tyneside Council can do.”
Mr Tew said much of the work underpinning the borough’s future was already in place - including plans to guide the borough through the recovery phase following the pandemic and its track record in delivering eco-friendly schemes.
He added: “I genuinely think that the borough is going to be at the heart of the green economy in this country for the next 10-20 years and when I read the economic recovery plan I thought it was really clever.
“It wasn’t just trying to recover back to what the economy used to be, it was trying to pivot to a different type of economy in the future.
“I think the relationship with schools and further education is really important as part of that, we have got to help people access those opportunities and make sure that they both aspire to take advantage of those jobs and are being well supported to do it.”
The new chief executive has been in “listen and learn mode” by engaging around 400 council staff in question and answer sessions alongside meeting key teams and the public on ward walks.
For Cllr Dixon, the approach mirrors the council’s focus on engagement with communities.
“We are making links with our volunteer organisations and I have been out where I can to meet groups and listen to them and this dialogue face-to-face is really welcomed by the communities,” Cllr Dixon said.
“It isn’t just about being a leader and a chief executive in your big town hall building, it’s about getting out there and seeing what is happening.
“For me, I really enjoy doing that and I’m open to comment and criticism and will listen to challenge and think that is what is important.”
Meanwhile, proposals for South Tyneside College to move into South Shields town centre are seen as crucial for boosting footfall in the coastal town.
Noting the recent review of regeneration plans, Cllr Dixon said the council was looking to “park the branding” of South Shields 365 and to explore new ideas for high streets.
To help town centres survive, she said, they have to be “given the opportunity to evolve” by shifting focus away from retail to other areas such as hospitality and accommodation.
When Cllr Dixon took on the council leader role last year she said there was a need for a “cultural shift” within the council.
In recent months, however, some borough councillors have questioned whether this has been achieved.
Despite the criticism, the council leader said she hoped the public and council staff had seen a general shift in dialogue towards “openness” – with no-one left “pushing at a closed door.”
“This is not about the past, it’s about the future and how we can try and move on,” Cllr Dixon said.
“We need our consultation work to start and to continue and that’s all about improving standards.
“So yes there has been criticism and that’s what democracy is all about and I’m all open for challenge.
“I’m hoping from a staff perspective in particular that there has been a change in the way that I have come into the leadership role and the style that I actually bring.”
South Tyneside Council’s new leadership team have said they are “here for the residents and businesses” and appealed for the borough to “put their trust in us as a council”.
Mr Tew said: “I’m one of those people who sees my job as both to support people around me and be humble about it but at the same time, try and see the links and join things up.
“It’s a real privilege to spend your time moving around between those different organisations whether its the NHS, police, business or the voluntary sector and you see those opportunities all over the place to do things a bit differently.
“Working across rather than vertically is what I have always done and it’s a fantastic opportunity to do that here and doing that with some humility and not pretending that we’ve got all the answers.
“It’s about being the people to support others to come forward and give their experience, to come up with the solutions and as the leader says, be humble enough to listen and then do something about it.”