The new chief executive of the LGA is a “strong leader” who “takes no prisoners”, according to former colleagues.
Carolyn Downs, former chief executive of Shropshire CC and currently chief executive of the Legal Services Commission, was named as the next chief of the association last week and is expected to start work at the LGA in the next three months.
Shropshire leader Keith Barrow (Con) said: “She’s a very strong leader and probably just what the LGA needs at the moment as it goes through a time of change.”
One former associate said “she is a pretty tough cookie” while another ex-colleague described Ms Downs as a “charismatic leader” who could be “very demanding and takes no prisoners”.
He said: “She was a tough boss to work for because she had extremely high standards. Some people found that very difficult but I found it one of the best experiences I have had in work.”
The LGA has recently completed a major restructuring process with only the posts of three senior managers reporting directly to Ms Downs left to be filled. However, one former colleague claimed it was unlikely she would not want to reshape the organisation herself.
“You don’t appoint Carolyn Downs unless you want to see radical change in your organisation,” they said.
An LGA spokesman said it was too early to comment on what decisions Ms Downs and the LGA’s political leadership might take.
But Gary Porter, leader of the LGA’s Conservative group, told LGC that, other than making the final appointments, her focus would be on cultural rather than structural change.
Ms Downs beat London Councils chief John O’Brien and Local Partnerships head Helen Bailey in what has been described by interviewers as a “close competition” and which led to a delay in the announcement.
Ms Downs is to be paid £169,000 and standard pension contributions of 15.9%, taking total remuneration to £195,871. The LGA had advertised the role at £150,000 but said “exceptional” candidates would be paid more.
Two weeks ago, communities secretary Eric Pickles told the Daily Mail the LGA chief executive should not be paid more than prime minister David Cameron’s reduced salary of £142,500.
Asked whether Ms Downs was prepared for the public scrutiny that her salary might bring, Cllr Porter claimed it was the same as she had been paid by the government in her role at the Legal Services Commission.
“The government thought she was worth £169,000 - and a bonus,” he said.
An LGA spokesman said: “In tough financial times, it’s right that there is pay restraint for senior positions, which is why Carolyn Downs will receive a salary of £169,000, exactly matching her current salary and a third less than the salary awarded to the last permanent chief executive of the LGA.”
Cllr Porter said Ms Downs had impressed with her “enthusiasm and energy” while LGA Liberal Democrat group head Richard Kemp praised her “passion”. He said: “She loves local government. She believes in local government.”
During the recruitment process, the LGA’s political leadership emphasised the need for someone who could deal with Whitehall officials on equal terms and Ms Downs’ experience working in the Ministry of Justice stood her in good stead.
Cllr Kemp said: “She will be able to take our cause to the mandarins of Whitehall where she is seen to be a strong player.”