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Gillian Beasley: My leadership style means never giving up my beliefs

Gillian Beasley
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My twin sister and I were empowered by our mother, a proud Eastender who, having little formal education herself, was determined that her daughters would receive the very best.

When only one of us passed our 11 plus, she kept our results from us, and fought tenaciously to get us into the best school she could. She was right to do so as we have both succeeded; my sister is now an associate professor of science at Oxford University and I became the first joint chief executive of a county and city council.

We’ll never know which of us passed the 11 plus, as when our mother told us this story for the first time and offered us the results, we didn’t want to look, and she’s now destroyed them. I suspect I failed, and so have even more reason to be thankful for a mother who was fighting for what she believed in.

The first defining moment of my career was when I was working for Leeds City Council, on my last placement in the planning law team. I was handling an appeal where the council had refused planning permission for a fish and chip shop. The shop owner had employed a top planning firm and one of its partners was appearing against me. Afterwards, the partner offered me a job with a good salary. Much to the horror of many around me, I turned him down. I had become passionate about the work I had done in child protection and so instead became a child protection lawyer.

Over the next ten years I worked with the government on the Children Act 1989 and worked pro bono with the National Council for Disabled Children and for the National Children’s Bureau. I also trained thousands of lawyers in children’s law for the Law Society. By 1997 I was the director of law and administration at Peterborough, where I set up the new constitutional arrangements.

The next defining moment came in 2001, when my role was expanded to include environmental services. A developer asked to show me plans for a very innovative development. The planning team was excited by the plans, but two senior planners took the development to pieces. Horrified by their lack of imagination, I blurted out, “Isn’t there anything you like about it?”

I realised that just as I was passionate about protecting children, so I was passionate about making planning, and later the entire council, a place where things were supported to happen in a positive way, fighting for what I believed in and never giving up.

I have had many battles during my career, but my mother’s example – and support from sometimes unexpected quarters – has kept me going.

Gillian Beasley, chief executive, Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire CC

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