Bradford Council chief executive announces retirement

Monday, 9 January 2023 19:06

By Chris Young, Local Democracy Reporter

Bradford Council chief executive Kersten England says she has decided to retire in June this year, after 8 years in the role.

Ms England, who was the Chief Executive of York Council before taking on the top role at Bradford Council in 2015, will stand down from the role in June, shortly after the May local elections.

As well as her role as Chief Executive, Ms England acts as returning officer for any elections held in Bradford.

Although her tenure at the top of the Council has seen a number of successes for the city, such as the District being awarded City of Culture 2025, it has also seen the Children’s Services taken away from Council control after years of underperformance.

And the murder of Star Hobson, a Keighley toddler who was found to have been failed by social services, led to calls for Ms England to resign.

Her work featured on prime time television last year. BBC’s Bradford on Duty regularly featured Ms England discussing issues such as regeneration, poverty and crime in the District.

A Council Chief Executive is appointed, not voted in like Councillors. Their role is to head up all Council services, and liase between Councillors from all parties and Council officers.

They are usually the highest paid employees for any authority.

Ms England’s retirement now means the Council will need to begin the process of looking for a new Chief Executive.

Announcing her retirement on Monday evening, Ms England said: “After 33 years in local government and eight years as Chief Executive of Bradford Council I have decided to retire in June.  It’s been a privilege to work with so many brilliant people in the district who are so dedicated to its success. 

“I want to hand the baton over to the next Chief Executive to give them a great start.  We are working hard to support councillors to set a budget in February, to get the Bradford District Children and Families Trust up and running from April and to run a set of local elections in May. There’s also important work to be done to ensure we are ready to deliver a fabulous year of culture in 2025.

“Though I will step away in June I will never stop being a champion and advocate for Bradford district, not least because I’ve made my home here for over thirty years.”

After yesterday’s announcement Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council, said: “I want to thank Kersten for all she has done for the district over the last eight years.  

“Her personal energy, drive and belief in our place have been tremendous but after eight years in post, I know she would now like to retire to explore other interests. 

“Even though she is retiring, as a local resident, she will continue to take a keen interest in the progress of the district and will enjoy the City of Culture celebrations in 2025 which she has played such a big part in securing for us.”

The daughter of Scottish writer Joan Lingard, best known for her Belfast based novels, Ms England first started working for Bradford Council from 1993 to 2005. She then took on roles including Director of Local Government for Yorkshire and the Humber, Director of Communities at Calderdale Council, and the top roll at York Council for almost six years. She returned to Bradford Council to take the role of Chief Executive in 2015.

Ms England had a key role in the push for West Yorkshire devolution – which successfully led to Government announcing a devolution deal in 2020. The deal lead to Bradford being awarded over £80m in Transforming Cities Fund cash. She also played a major role in the years long campaign to get Bradford named as City of Culture for 2025.

She has faced increased criticism in recent years, particularly since a 2018 Ofsted inspection of Bradford’s Children’s Services found the service to be “inadequate.” A lack of improvement since then has led to the service being taken away from the Council. From April an arms length trust will take over running Bradford’s Children’s Services.

The murder of Star Hobson not only led to calls for Ms England to stand down, but also led to her appearing in front of a Parliamentary Select Committee in June. She was asked by MPs why she had not resigned following the Star Hobson case. She told the committee: “I apologise now unreservedly. We missed key signs that could have meant we’d done better to protect her.”

She said she had not resigned due to wanting to put things right, adding: “Stability in leadership is critical.”

Posting news of her retirement on Twitter last night, Ms England said: “Though I will step away in June, I will never stop being a champion and advocate for Bradford.”

Councillor Rebecca Poulsen, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bradford Council, said: “I was very surprised to see the announcement that was emailed to us yesterday – I’d had no prior notification as group leader.

“I wish her well in her retirement and thank her for her eight years in the role.

“In her time in Bradford she has had some successes like the City of Culture bid, but there have also been negative aspects, particularly in relation to Children’s Services.

“I hope we can go out and recruit a head of paid services and get some new, fresh ideas to improve things. We have a lot of work to do.”

 

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