Somerset County Council: Rudderless in the Storm

Shiela Wheeler "What is going on?"
Shiela Wheeler “What is going on?”

Labour’s candidate for Somerton and Frome, David Oakensen, says a crisis of leadership is hampering Somerset County Council’s response to the storms and flooding that have hit the county. The Chief Executive, Sheila Wheeler, has not been at her desk for three months, after beginning sick leave in November last year.

Without decisive leadership at county level, it was left to Sedgemoor District Council to declare that the floods were a major incident. And in what’s being seen as a reference to the slow response from the ruling Tories at the county council, David Cameron spoke of “local hesitation” in the response to the floods.

David Oakensen said: “The continuing unexplained absence of Chief Executive, Sheila Wheeler explains the chaotic response of Somerset County Council to the floods. Without leadership they have floundered in the face of the storms like a ship without a rudder.”

David OakensenSheila Wheeler was appointed chief executive four years ago, when the then Tory leader Ken Maddock said he wanted a change of direction and new priorities. The respected local government magazine, The Municipal Journal, reported there was a “tricky relationship” between Ms Wheeler and the new Tory leader John Osman. It predicted a messy battle to oust her, which could cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

It is understood that county councillors have been briefed privately about the reasons for Ms Wheeler’s absence. But a full public explanation has been lacking. Labour’s David Oakenson (right)  says “The people of Somerset should be told just what is going on.”


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