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Keith Townsend started out as a park ranger, now he's in charge of customer services for a major London borough. Su...
Keith Townsend started out as a park ranger, now he's in charge of customer services for a major London borough. Suzanne Simmons-Lewis explores his role and career path

Keith Townsend

Advertised LGC, 4 February 2005

Salary (as advertised):£120,000 plus bonus

Previous experience

Interim, then executive, director of customer services, Ealing LBC

Director of cultural services, Ealing LBC

Change director of management transformation change programme, Ealing LBC

Service director of environment management group, Ealing LBC

Head of parks and countryside service , Ealing LBC

Nature conservation manager, Ealing LBC

Area manager, Lea Valley Regional Park Authority

Best bit about the job 'Improving how residents access council services and working with other parties to make real improvements.'

Biggest challenge 'Working with reduced money as a result of a tight financial settlement, but still having to demonstrate value for money.'

Reporting to the chief executive.

Pay bands

The Employers' Organisation does not have pay bands for this role

A senior role developing customer services was the furthest thing from Keith Townsend's mind when he began his career as a park ranger, after qualifying as a geographer. Through a variety of jobs he has gained the mixed bag of skills required for his role as executive director of customer services.

An emphasis on improving customers' experience of council services is fairly new, but in this era of performance management and targets, councils are increasingly recognising that choice and efficiency can reap better comprehensive performance assessment scores and raise the reputation of the council.

Dedicated roles in this area are developing rapidly at various levels of seniority. At executive director level Mr Townsend has overall responsibility for overseeing service and service performance and improving performance indicators. He represents the council on major projects and has corporate responsibility for driving through the new vision for Ealing, including the revised community strategy.

His role sits within the corporate centre of the organisation and covers most front-end services including

environmental services, street scene, the built environment, cultural services and customer services.

Since joining Ealing LBC in 1996, Mr Townsend has worked in six jobs, picking up valuable skills. He joined as a nature conservation manager and four years later became head of the new parks and conservation service. His responsibilities continued to widen as service director in environment management in 2001, and two years on he moved into change management as director of the management transformation change programme.

He says: 'I gained valuable transferable skills in this role, working entirely on transforming the council to get the right people, tools and technology to improve the council.'

This helped him secure the job of director of cultural services, which includes responsibility for libraries and leisure centres. In early 2005 he became interim executive director of customer services and was appointed to the permanent role a few months later, working with a new corporate board and chief executive.

Mr Townsend says: 'I particularly enjoy improving how residents access the council and the feedback from service standards are improving every month.'

For anyone thinking of taking on a senior role, Mr Townsend believes professional background is not as important as leadership, management skills and attitude. 'Most importantly officers need the enthusiasm, passion and energy to make changes and bring a team along with them.

'Transferable skills required include finance, legal, performance management and the ability to lead teams through change. Officers will need to understand and believe that they can create relationships with partners.'

He adds: 'Make sure you create a long-term vision for what you want to achieve. Take time out and plan your vision with colleagues to create challenging but achievable targets.'

These roles are not for the faint hearted, with tough environment targets and performance indicator measures, a harder comprehensive performance assessment and corporate assessment for customer services.

A senior role managing customer services opens the door to other opportunities, such as council chief executive or a customer services role in the private sector. Mr Townsend adds: 'With my experience there is potential to work as a consultant helping councils manage the process of going through massive change.'

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