IssuesLocal government

Transitioning from public sector to local government

Josephine Kelly took up the dynamic role of Director of Corporate Services at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council in October 2022. This was a step change into local government from a career spanning over 30 years, which has included senior management positions in public service organisations such as South East Regional College (SERC), Legal Services Commission, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and as the Director of Finance in NI Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS).

Transitioning from public service into local government, she carries with her a passion for providing effective leadership, a firm belief in investing in a skilled workforce and the importance of understanding the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

Kelly qualified as a chartered accountant in 1994 and started her career with PwC, acquiring a solid foundation in financial and business acumen. Talking about her experience and what prompted her to take on a senior position at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, she says: “The corporate services role is a natural progression for me and builds on my breadth and depth of experience of delivering public services. It is a real privilege to now be working in local government for Newry, Mourne and Down and be part of a team providing council services and economic development in local communities.”

Most recently, she worked for AFBI as the Director of Finance and Corporate Affairs, including time as the acting Chief Executive.

“I think the proudest moment,” she recalls from her public career to date, “was working with the scientists at AFBI who usually provide analytical and diagnostic testing for animal health services. During the height of the pandemic, I helped to put in place the approvals and resources necessary to create additional capacity within the AFBI team so that they could assist the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust in providing testing for Covid-19. This was in collaboration with Belfast Health Trust, QUB and UU under the auspices of the Department of Health’s Expert Advisory Group on Covid-19 testing. It was a real testament to what public services can deliver through partnership within a very short timeframe.”

This is the first time Kelly has worked directly with elected members across the political parties. Her involvement with the election count at Newry Leisure Centre in May during the local government elections was a standout moment during her first nine months in-post. “It was such a privilege to see local democracy in action and I am looking forward to working closely with elected members in a busy first year ahead of the new council term. On top of the to-do list for 2023/24 is the development of a new Digital and IT Strategy and looking at ways to improve the efficiency and sustainability of services as well as the delivery of our exciting capital projects.”

Kelly is well experienced in leading transformation projects and has led the restructuring of critical supporting services both in AFBI and NIFRS. In AFBI, she also developed the Finance Development Programme and secured vital investment in new systems and new ways of working.

She also recently acquired a master’s degree in executive leadership at Ulster University. With her new role taking her right into the political landscape of local government and spanning an ambitious remit leading skilled teams across a range of support functions including HR, finance, IT, communications, capital projects, and procurement, Kelly believes that leadership and communication is the common denominator in delivering at a senior level. “Leadership is all about people and that has not differed in any of my various leadership roles.”

Her priorities are two-fold: to create a team with vision and purpose. This focuses on keeping pace with the enhanced digital world to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of services. The Council has a combined revenue and capital budget of circa £60 million and over 1,000 employees. A key part of her work is to support the strategic management of the Council’s budget planning process, whilst also providing leadership to ensure that robust financial procedures are implemented and maintained across all council services.

“Like many important services and organisations, we have had to adjust to accelerated change over the last number of years – especially since Covid-19. The Council is transitioning as an employer and as an organisation and seeking new ways of increasing efficiency and cutting expenditure. The pandemic showed us how quickly services could be transformed by using technology. Real steps forward were made digitally and remote working also proved largely successful. Going forward, corporate services will continue to improve, transform, and modernise ensuring that we deliver efficient and effective services for the benefit of our staff, customers, and communities.

“We are one of six local councils to secure the first ever billion-pound City Deal agreement and I look forward to working with our Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD) partners and stakeholders as our BRCD projects, which include the regeneration of Newry city centre, move from the development to the delivery phase.

“The delivery of our ambitious capital investment programme will ensure that Newry, Mourne and Down is a great place to live, study, work, visit, and invest in. The district has so much to offer. This is a special place, diverse in all aspects. It is home to the newest geopark in the world – the second in Northern Ireland – and an important economic corridor between Belfast and Dublin. I feel privileged to be part of the senior management team which supports the Council in its important development and stewardship role.”

T: 0330 137 4046

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