Carolyn Downs addresses Brent residents at the most demanding moment in her long career as Covid hit its peak in March 2020
Brent Council has announced the retirement of its Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, who will leave in Spring 2023.
The announcement on the Council website said:
Brent Council’s long-serving Chief Executive Carolyn Downs has announced that she is to retire in the spring.
After a career in local and central government that has spanned more than four decades, concluding with more than seven years as Chief Executive of Brent Council, Carolyn will step down at the end of April 2023.
Carolyn’s career in local government began in 1982 in Haringey’s library service. Following 8 years in Haringey, Carolyn moved on to Stevenage and then Calderdale councils before, in 2003, becoming the first female Chief Executive at Shropshire County Council where she lead the Council to become one of the first ever County unitary authorities. After that, she became deputy permanent Secretary and Director General of Corporate Performance at the Ministry of Justice. Carolyn then became Chief Executive of The Legal Services Commission and subsequently Chief Executive of The Local Government Association for four years.
Having established herself as one of the most respected leaders in local government, the self-confessed ‘public sector devotee’ joined Brent as Chief Executive in June 2015.
During her time at the helm of London’s fifth largest borough and one of the most diverse boroughs in Britain, Brent established itself as a pioneering council that ‘set trends and didn’t follow them’. During her tenure, the supply of affordable housing increased significantly, with Brent delivering more housing completions last year than any borough in the history of the Greater London Authority. The number of people in temporary accommodation has fallen while Brent achieved its best ever Ofsted rating for the quality of its children’s services.
Brent was named London Borough of Culture 2020 by the Mayor of London and later that year was crowned the LGC’s ‘Council of the Year’ with the judges commenting: “Brent has embraced its communities in a celebration of diversity, lifting up the whole borough. The council demonstrates how to convene place and communities – an antidote to today’s fractured society. It impressed on multiple fronts, showing leadership in the round.”
The council was also often seen as leading the way during local government’s response to the COVID pandemic with Brent breaking new ground on the procurement of PPE, hyper local testing and its approach to engaging with local communities.
Current Brent Council Leader Muhammed Butt with Carolyn Downs
Carolyn Downs said:
Brent is a very special place and it has been an enormous privilege to work here. Brent truly is the borough of cultures – with a mixture of challenges and opportunities as varied as the residents we serve. From building new council homes to building community cohesion and resilience, everything we do is focused on improving the lives of local people.
Despite the challenges faced by local Government we have achieved a lot together and one of the things that pleases me the most is the consistently high levels of residents’ and staff satisfaction over recent years.
It will soon be time for me to hang up my boots and spend a bit more time on my other passions including spending some more time with my wonderful family. Nobody can do this job alone and I will be leaving Brent knowing it is in a good place and with fantastic managers in place across the whole council.
I have been fortunate to work with a hugely talented group of officers as well as ambitious and supportive elected members and the many amazing voluntary and community groups who all make Brent what it is today. Brent’s diversity shines through both our workforce and elected members. Although there will be plenty of time to say farewell over the coming months, I do want to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone I have worked with for what have been seven of the happiest years of my career.
Cllr Muhammed Butt, Brent Council Leader, said:
Carolyn’s huge knowledge and experience has been a massive asset to Brent during some of toughest years local government has ever faced. Her central role in supporting our borough get through the Covid pandemic showed her tireless commitment to public service. I would like to thank Carolyn for her stewardship and leadership over the years and the mutual respect that is evident between members and officers is a testament to her approach. I will always respect her wise advice which has helped us to become best in class in a number of areas as we have worked together with our communities to deliver a better Brent.
To ensure a smooth transition, recruitment for a new Chief Executive will begin shortly with the council looking to make an appointment early in 2023.
Reacting to the news Cllr, Ketan Sheth said:
Working closely with Carolyn as Chair of scrutiny in Brent and NW London, she’s been able to bring together the NW London councils and the NHS — a pioneering move to deliver joined-up services, which support residents, and address deep rooted health inequalities. Carolyn’s approach to leadership has helped to transform Brent, particularly during the toughest years we have ever faced. Her pivotal role in supporting the Borough to get through the Covid pandemic exemplified commitment to public service. Her ability to drive forward our plans to regenerate our town centres and support communities across Brent illustrates the talent she has brought to the role. I wish her all the very best for a long, healthy and happy retirement.
Recently Ms Downs has attempted to improve the sometimes toxic relationship between members of the different political groups on Brent Council and sought to show the benefots of working togather for the common good of Brent residents. Work that I hope will continue under the new CEO.
Perhaps an Opposition councillor or two could sit in on the Appointments Panel for the new CEO?
On a personal note I have encountered Carolyn in my role as Editor of Wembley Matters as well as the Election Agent for Brent Green Party. Her role as Election Returning Officer is not mentioned in the Council press release but that is where a broader sweep of Brent people meet her. She has always been polite despite the criticisms I publish on Wembley Matters and as the borough Election Returning Officer her sense of humour helped lighten many a long tedious night. Her communication skills are clear from the above video but not often seen by the public, perhaps mostly when she comes to the rescue with whispered instructions (or suggestions) to the Mayor when s/he is presiding over Full Council Meetings
This is the latest in a list of recent changes at the top of Brent Council including the Assistant Chief Excutive and the Strategic Director of Children and Families.