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Councillors battle over future of Sheffield council boss

Sources tell Now Then that the debate over Kate Joseph's return is more about her attempt to change council culture than her role in 'Partygate'.

City centre town hall 4
Rachel Rae Photography

Political parties on Sheffield City Council (SCC) are battling over the future of Chief Executive Kate Josephs, who is still suspended from her job as a result of the 'Partygate' affair.

It's understood that Green Party councillors want to see Josephs return, while Labour councillors are divided on the issue.

Now Then understands that the row has little to do with the original incident itself (which Josephs has apologised for), but in reality relates to her role at SCC, which she took up in January 2021.

Sources within the council have described Josephs as an agent of change, and it's believed this more closely aligns with Green aims to change the culture of the organisation and the way it is run.

It's understood that the Labour group – the largest on the council – are split on Josephs' return, with councillors from the party's centre ground calling for her to be sacked.

Another group of Labour councillors, more closely aligned with the party's left, are believed to have sided with the Greens in pushing for her return.

Josephs has been temporarily replaced as Chief Executive by head of resources Eugene Walker, who has worked at SCC for 23 years and is seen as part of the organisation's old guard.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one senior council officer described Josephs' arrival a year ago as a "breath of fresh air".

"It has been said that in her first year not much had changed, but I think the culture had changed," they said.

"I think staff felt that things were possible again, and we started to be less passive despite the cuts to our budget. We had a leader who felt very human, who was accessible and who listened."

The officer went on to say that "progress seems to have stalled" in the five months since Josephs was suspended, and that "there is a sense that SCC is drifting."

Representatives of the city's independent businesses and third-sector organisations who Now Then spoke to for this piece all called for Josephs to be reinstated.

"Previous leaders and CEOs of the city have not been interested in these vulnerable communities that we work with and they have persistently been left behind, but it was clear from her willingness to engage that she values them as much as others in the city," said Jodie Marshall of community theatre company A Mind Apart.

"Work like this was put to an abrupt halt when the council took the decisions they did over the situation, and has set the city back even further once again."

Speaking about Josephs' appointment, Ambulo and Public owner James O'Hara said there was "marked excitement across the business community, creative community and beyond that we seemed to have managed to find exactly the right sort of person to lead the city."

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A Downing Street drinks party attended by Boris Johnson, who has not been suspended from his job.

"It really did engender a huge swell of optimism amongst the people who encountered her."

Dave Hembrough, chair of Sheffield Children & Families Consortium, said that she was "just what we need", adding that "to lose her would be a loss for the future of Sheffield."

After the publication of the Sue Gray report earlier today, Josephs reiterated her apology on Twitter, adding that she "remains totally committed to our city and to the Council."

A cross-party committee of councillors will now meet again to make a recommendation to Full Council on whether Josephs should return to work.

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