Strawberry Aftertaste

Katherine Kerswell is leaving Northamptonshire County Council after three years, in which time she's overseen a huge management change but also been pilloried in the press for a "Taste the Strawberry" campaign for staff.

Now she opens up to Heart reflecting on the highs - and lows - as she finishes packing up her stuff before going on to take up the same position at Kent County Council.

One of her most eye-catching moves at County Hall was the "Taste the Strawberry" campaign.  It was supposed to help staff become more focused on the services they deliver to people and encourage more pride amongst the 22,000 workers.  It was, however, pilloried in some sections of the media and even came to the attention of comic Stephen Fry.

Katherine Kerswell "on the strawberry incident"

One thing that certainly got people talking was how much she was being paid.  The authority was criticised for the golden handshake offered to her predecessor and eventually revealed that Mrs Kerswell's salary was £197,136 pounds.

It prompted anger in some quarters, but support in others with some pointing to similar - if not larger - pay packets for people running private-sector organisations with a one billion pound budget.

So - was she worth it?

Large amounts being paid to senior managers is always a difficult message to get across when people are losing their jobs, as they are at County Hall.  The authority had already revealed that it needs to save £100m over the next four years, even before the new Government starts turning the screws even further with widely-expected budget cuts.

So how is the authority going to cope?

And as for her highlights in the job, she points to an improvement in GSCE performance across the county, giving people their own personal budgets for things like social care, giving Silverstone Circuits a grant to help secure jobs and making council staff care more about the council.  On the downside, she feels its taken them too long.

As one of the few female chief executives of local authorities she's also keen to promote the message that women can achieve senior roles in management.

But how do you help increase the numbers?

When asked by Heart what she would write if she was signing her own leaving card? "Keep trusting yourself and never forget to smell the roses!"

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