Region lauds ‘titan of local government’ Lord Kerslake

The former chief executive of Sheffield City Council was also described by Sir Keir Starmer as a “talented public servant,” among many tributes paid following his passing away.

Kerslake’s sister Ros tweeted on Sunday that “my brother Bob (Lord Robert Kerslake) died yesterday after a short battle with cancer. We are all devastated.” He was 68.

Originating from the West Country, Kerslake studied public finance before serving across various London boroughs in the 1990s, becoming chief executive of Sheffield City Council in 1997.

In his time at Sheffield, Kerslake oversaw a period of regeneration generally described as the first phase of the Heart of the City programme, including the remodelled Peace Gardens, Winter Gardens, Millennium Galleries and St Paul’s Place development.

Sheffield City Council’s tribute read: “We’re very sad to hear the news that our former Chief Executive, Lord Bob Kerslake, has died after a short illness. Bob devoted his life to public service and was a true champion for Sheffield and its people. Our deepest condolences to his family and friends at this time.”

After leaving the council, he became the first chief executive of Homes England forerunner the Homes & Communities Agency, before becoming permanent secretary of the Department for Communities & Local Government. He also served as head of the civil service between 2012 and 2014.

Also having a spell as chair of the King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust between 2014 and 2017, Kerslake was put forward for a peerage in 2015 – a decade after being knighted.

More recently, he chaired the UK2070 Commission on regional inequalities, and also led the inquiry into the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. commissioned by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.

In his role as chair of the Stockport Mayoral Development Corporation, he appeared at the UKREiiF event in Leeds this May.

Lord Kerslake had also been working with the Labour Party on its preparations for the next General Election. Among those paying tribute were the party’s leader Sir Keir Starmer, London mayor Sadiq Khan and ex-shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Starmer said: “Bob was a talented public servant, utmost professional and a good man. He was rightly respected across Westminster for his experience and wisdom and I’m grateful for his recent contributions to the Labour Party.”

A selection of tributes to Lord Kerslake:

Dan Jarvis, MP for Barnsley Central and formerly South Yorkshire’s first mayor: “Bob was a titan of local and national government, a public servant to his core and a true champion of Sheffield and South Yorkshire. He was a great source of support during my time as Mayor and I’ll much miss his wise counsel and warm friendship. RIP.”

Kate Martin, executive director of Sheffield City Council: “Sir Bob made a significant and lasting contribution to Sheffield and to many of our City partnerships.”

Lord (Eric) Pickles: “I am sorry to learn of Bob’s death. I had the privilege of working alongside him when he was my Permanent Secretary. We had a very different political outlook, but I admired and valued his judgment. Kind, thoughtful and considerate of others, he is a great loss to local government and the House of Lords.”

Tracy Brabin, West Yorkshire mayor: “He was kind, generous and clever. He was an enormous help to me personally when I became Mayor, always available and supportive and I know there will be many who could say the same.”

Tom Riordan, Leeds City Council chief executive: “He was the very best of local government, public service and regeneration, and leaves an incredible legacy, as well as of course being a lovely man.”

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Some public sector leaders become known by being a bit loud, but Bob always had a quiet authority and was able to take people with him. He’ll be missed.

By D Hagman

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