Failure to find chief executive blamed on “toxicity” within Southend Council

Southend Council failed in its recent bid to appoint a new chief executive because of a “toxic” atmosphere, its deputy leader has said.

Two of three final candidates to replace outgoing chief executive Alison Griffin walked away from the post it was claimed at a heated council meeting on Thursday.

Andy Lewis has been appointed as interim chief executive with the council now in no hurry to replace Ms Griffin while a new management structure, which she drew up before her departure, is put in place.

The scheme to streamline Southend’s corporate services will see the loss of one executive director.

Tory councillors failed in their attempt for the changes to be deferred until a new chief executive is appointed.

However, the meeting descended into a heated exchange between the groups after questions were asked about the lack of suitable candidates for the role.

Cllr Ron Woodley, deputy leader of the council, said: “It could be of course the toxic behaviour, the toxicity in the council itself. If I was looking for a chief executive job I wouldn’t take this one.

“We have to start behaving sensibly. We have to start behaving nicely, get our points across but do it in a way that removes the toxicity that this chamber has developed.”

However, Peter Wexham, Lib Dem councillor for Leigh ward fanned the flames of the dispute.

He said: “I’m surprised we would get anyone who would want to take a job here. All they have got to do is sit and watch the television every time we have a meeting and watch the performance of the opposition and what they do time and time again. It just goes on and on and it’s enough to put anybody off.”

Tony Cox, leader of the Tory group demanded an apology. He said: “That’s actually pointing the finger that it’s this group’s fault that a permanent chief executive can’t be recruited.

“I am sorry but I am not prepared to stand by and let that scurrilous accusation go by without an apology because that is slanderous.”

Undaunted Mr Wexham added: “It’s out of this world the way things are going on and it’s getting worse. It’s hardly worth being on this council.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter