Sheffield council's new chief executive Kate Josephs wants city to finally start punching its weight

The former head of the Government's Covid-19 taskforce who has taken over as chief executive of Sheffield council says she wants the city to start "punching its weight" on the national stage.

Yorkshire-born Kate Josephs, in her first interview since taking on the role at the start of 2021 after 20 years in national government, said the "brilliant pieces of the story haven't always come together" for her adopted city.

Prior to moving to Yorkshire, she served as the Director General of the Cabinet Office Covid-19 Taskforce which brings together the work being done on the pandemic by different Whitehall departments.

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As well as having a number of senior leadership roles in Whitehall, she also spent two-and-a-half years working for the US federal government, including a spell as Executive Director of the White House Performance Improvement Council.

Yorkshire-born Kate Josephs, in her first interview since taking on the role at the start of 2021 after 20 years in national government, said the "brilliant pieces of the story haven't always come together" for her adopted city.

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The Sheffield City Council chief executive post became vacant at the end of 2019 when John Mothersole retired after 11 years and Charlie Adan stepped in on an interim basis in January 2020.

Mrs Josephs, a mother-of-two who was born in Halifax and grew up in Doncaster, told BBC Radio Sheffield: "I grew up in South Yorkshire. I love this bit of the world, I've spent my life working in national government. And when the opportunity to do this job came up, it was a huge opportunity.

"It's something I really want to do, and I think although it is an incredibly hard year and there's an awful lot of challenges, this city has got an awful lot to shout about. We've got some great opportunities to build out of this pandemic because it doesn't sometimes feel like it but this will come to an end."

At time her appointment was announced last summer, then-council leader Julie Dore described Ms Joseph as "an incredible asset for our city".

She said: “Kate’s experience and CV are extremely impressive and she will come here having worked in the highest level of Government in both the UK and in America, with Prime Ministers, Chancellors and Ministers.

"This experience will bring Sheffield great opportunities on the national and international stage."

Her career as a senior leader in the UK civil service includes Deputy Director positions in the Treasury and the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit.

As Director of National Operations for Academies and Regional Delivery in the Department for Education (DfE) from 2016 to 2019 she was responsible for national strategy, operations and oversight across the Academies Programme.

She described Sheffield, whose council covers the third biggest population of any local authority in England, behind Leeds and Birmingham, as an "incredible place". But she said she wanted to help improve the way it is perceived outside the city, including elsewhere in Yorkshire.

She said: "There's something that we need to grab as a city, we've got amazing history, natural resources, brilliant things happening in terms of manufacturing, in terms of our businesses, but there's something about Sheffield, it's as if the brilliant pieces of the story haven't always come together.

"I've been here a month and had loads and loads of conversations with all sorts of people, and the number of people that have said to me Sheffield just doesn't punch above its weight, it's not punching its weight, nationally, regionally.

"And I think that's something that's a story that we need to shift, we don't want that to be the story that we tell ourselves about the city.

"I think the will and the energy is there. A huge part of my job and all of our teams' jobs is to deliver brilliant services for Sheffield and to always try and improve those every day.

"But it's also important that we can play a role in galvanising that vision for the city, we can play a role in connecting and kickstarting, whether it's regeneration, whether it's supporting communities to be ambitious for themselves and bringing the services to bear that will kind of wrap around that, I do really think there's an opportunity here.

"And coming out of Covid, it's hard because people are knackered and we've had a tough year and we're mourning a lot of people who've lost their lives.

"But I do think there will be opportunities off the back of Covid for Sheffield to take advantage of the assets that we have and to and to turn that sort of story of not punching our weight into something different."

Mrs Josephs said it was important the city "learns the lessons of the past but we don't become trapped by it".

Asked about the protests at the mass felling of health trees in Sheffield, which made headlines around the country, she said: "I totally understand how big an issue that was for the city."

She added: "A lot has been done to respond and reflect on that and I agree with you that there's more work to do but the main thing I would want to focus on I think is that as an organisation of 8,000 people, we've got a very, very large number of really committed staff, all over the city.

"And particularly during this last year I should make sure I say a huge thank you to those staff who've gone really above and beyond in respect to the challenges that the pandemic posed and worked in different ways, which is something I do want us to do.

"I do want us to learn from this and I do want us to seek to be a council and an organisation that's open and accessible that's working with our communities with our citizens.

"It's important we learn the lessons of the past but we don't become trapped by it and that we make sure we're optimistic about the future for the city."

A full interview with Kate Josephs will appear in The Yorkshire Post on February 20.