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New North Norfolk District Council chief balances budget - and life as a working mum

PUBLISHED: 12:44 02 March 2012 | UPDATED: 15:05 02 March 2012

Sheila Oxtoby chief executive of North Norfolk District Council

Sheila Oxtoby chief executive of North Norfolk District Council

Archant

As a working mum Sheila Oxtoby has a bigger “household budget” than most - at about £13m.

But the new chief executive at North Norfolk District Council faces the same challenge as most families of trying to make the most of the money at her disposal.

The 42-year-old is using her background in accountancy, economics and management to help steer the council through choppy waters of finding cuts, streamlining services and re-jigging the workforce in a high-pressure business and political arena.

But as a mother of two, she also goes home to the everyday family issues of overseeing homework, packed lunches and making sure sports gear is ready for her sons.

“Having children is a relaxation from work. When you get home there are a whole host of different issues to deal with,” said Mrs Oxtoby, who lives at North Walsham with husband Adrian, a self-employed heating engineer, and sons Dan, 16, and Joseph, eight.

Back in the office Mrs Oxtoby faces constantly trimming the council budget, working hand-in-hand with the new Conservative-led 48-strong membership.

She admitted it was an “incredibly challenging time” for a rural council whose needs could be overlooked by central government, whose priorities were towards urban areas.

The budget, which was £15m not too long ago, needs to be pruned to £11.8m over the next three years, while also trying to provide growth in the local economy.

But she also hoped that planned policies of switching more control over funding to local councils would also provide opportunities as well as challenges.

The council was already linking up with sister councils in Norfolk to share services such as refuse, benefits and car parking.

Mrs Oxtoby said that despite the threats to jobs and wages during the council’s workforce review, the staff remained loyal to the authority and the area, and had a real sense of pride in their work.

The public did not always realise the full range of work the council did - such as supporting theatres and sports centres. One of her challenges was to raise awareness of its many functions, and the difficult choices it faced over where to spend cash on services.

Mrs Oxtoby played down the fact she was the first woman chief executive of the council - as the authority had a high percentage of women managers and it was “down to the best person for the job rather than gender”.

She did not set out to be a council chief, but was the kind of person who wanted to “do more and look for the next challenge”.

Born in York, she did an honours degree in geography and economics before having a choice of job offers as a map maker for the Ministry of Defence in London or a trainee accountant at Selby District Council closer to home - choosing the latter as she had student debts to pay off.

After qualifying in 1994, marrying in 1995 and having first son Dan in 1996, she was drawn from urban York to rural North Norfolk by the job as chief accountant.

After rising to head of finance and director of resources she became deputy chief executive three years ago, and has been in the top job since the beginning of February.

“I knew I wanted to be a council treasurer, but as you move through your career you want to grow and develop,” she explained.

Mrs Oxtoby said she enjoyed the politics side of council work adding “the private sector has politics too - in the boardroom - ours is more open and transparent”.

The officers could pride themselves on a good job done if they provided sound and clear advice to help members debate and decide issues, she said.

Mrs Oxtoby is keen to be a “visible” boss and has been visiting all the council’s staff and teams.

She also aims to spend time on the front line, including spells on reception, and doing planning and environmental health tasks.

“People need to see you as a human as well as a chief executive,” she added. “I might even appear on a bin round.”


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