Chief executive reflects ahead of ‘the top job’

Ms Roney helped bring The Hepworth to fruition.
Ms Roney helped bring The Hepworth to fruition.

Wakefield Council’s chief executive Joanne Roney completed the last of her work in the district this week.

Ms Roney will leave the council to take up the same position in Manchester, a role widely described as “the top job in local government”.

In the past nine years, she has brought to fruition projects including The Hepworth Wakefield and Trinity Walk Shopping Centre.

And Ms Roney, who first became a public servant through an apprenticeship at the age of 16, says other achievements she is most proud of include working to tackle the district’s high level of domestic violence incidents and helping to improve outcomes for children and young people.

Reflecting on her time in the district, she told The Express: “The culture and heritage of Wakefield remains understated in my view. It has been great to play my part in raising the profile for the district and I think there is come to come.

“I think the people of Wakefield are brilliant. They just tell you what they think. And the staff here at the council are dedicated and genuine and they do some amazing things.

“Sometimes I forget how much we have achieved here in Wakefield during a time of massive cut backs and adversity.

“The partnership with Peter Box has been really good. It has been exactly how a council leader and chief executive should be - challenging, not always in agreement but absolutely respectful of different perspectives and together able to face up to some pretty difficult times and keep going.”

Ms Roney, who was formerly director of housing at Kirklees Council and Sheffield City Council’s deputy chief executive was awarded an OBE for her services to local government in 2009.

She said: “My passion is for local government and what it can do to transform people’s lives. The way in which my life has turned out I owe to local government too, so to be recognised for giving something back was humbling.”

Ms Roney said she was looking forward to new challenges at Manchester, including working towards devolution.

She said: “I feel that I am coming towards the end of my career and I am a big city girl at heart. Manchester is the top job in the local government profession.

“I felt I owed it to myself and to women generally to have a shot at it.

“I take with me the responsibility of being a woman in a senior public job at a time when I think society is changing.

“I started as a 16-year-old from a deprived area of Birmingham and will finish my career as a chief executive of one of the most significant authorities in the country.

“It is so important to say ‘look glass ceilings can be smashed’. There’s nothing special about me.

“You just need the belief you can do it and the confidence you can do it, and if you really want something, you can get it and make a difference.”

Ms Roney will be replaced by Merran McRae, who is currently chief executive at Calderdale Council. She said: “I leave an intray of unresolved issues for Merran. But I think I leave a strong team behind and a clear vision and ambition for the district. I wish her and Wakefield every success.”