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Slough names new chief and begins search for finance director

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Slough BC is overhauling its top team by putting its chief operating officer, Stephen Brown, in the chief role and kickstarting the recruitment process for a new finance director and section 151 officer.

Mr Brown, will step into the chief role in place of Gavin Jones, who is also one of the commissioners appointed last year after Slough was found to be failing in its best value duty.

As well as holding these two challenging roles, Mr Jones is the long standing chief executive of Essex CC and in September became embroiled in another financially challenged council when Essex was ordered to act as commissioner for its neighboring unitary, Thurrock BC.

Mr Jones will remain a commissioner at Slough, and is also now leading the intervention at Thurrock. He told LGC he will reduce the time he spends at Slough to “perhaps one day a week”, working alongside the two other commissioners.

He said: “I like to think I can divide my time in this way because we have built up strength and depth at Essex and a supportive culture where we help each other. Thurrock is part of the Greater Essex family so its in our mutual benefit to provide support when an authority gets into trouble.”

Before Mr Brown joined Slough as chief operating officer in June, he was interim director of place at Wokingham BC and prior to that was director of public protection for Kensington & Chelsea PBC. He has also held roles as director of the District Councils Network and spent 13 years as chief executive of Cannock Chase DC.

Mr Jones said is “delighted with Stephen’s appointment”. “I brought him in as COO and he has established himself very quickly, he’ll be able to give the time and commitment to Slough as [chief] that it needs.”

Mr Brown described his new role as “what must be one of the most interesting roles in local government at the moment”.

“I’ve been very impressed to see how much good work is still going on, how enthusiastic employees are, and the sheer dedication to serving the residents of Slough,” he said. “This is a tough and challenging time for Slough, but there is a way ahead, and I am committed to leading the council.”

Search for new finance director

Meanwhile, Slough has started the search for a new permanent replacement for its section 151 officer and finance director, Steven Mair, who is departing in March 2023.

Mr Mair came to the council on an interim basis after Slough’s previous section 151 officer, Neil Wilcox, resigned in May l2021 when external auditors Grant Thornton published their damning report on the 2018-19 accounts, uncovering historic accounting errors.

During his time at Slough, Mr Mair and his team found the council racked up a £760m borrowing debt which prompted him to issue a section 114.

Mr Mair helped devise a plan to sell up to £600m of assets and make £20m yearly savings to get the local authority to a stable financial position by the end of the decade. He also helped restructure the finance department for the council to become less reliant on agency and temporary staff.

Slough is understood to have started the recruitment process for Mr Mair’s replacement.