Member Spotlight: Barry J. Quirk

“The most important issue for local government is how best to be relevant. Councils need to shape open communities for the modern world and they need services to be fit for the 21st century and for new generations of citizens and service users.”

ARTICLE | Feb 6, 2014

Barry Quirk was appointed chief executive of the London Borough of Lewisham in 1994. Lewisham is a socially and ethnically diverse inner London authority of some 290,000 people. The council has a directly elected mayor and 54 elected councilors. 

Following the Crash of 2008 and the deep recession that followed, the UK government has one of the most severe austerity programs in the world in an attempt to lower the nation’s high levels of public sector debt. As a result, Lewisham has reduced its overall budget by $145m to $480m in the past three years. The plan now is to reduce it by a further $155m over the coming four years. Cost reduction programs only go so far; radical service redesign is the approach being adopted in Lewisham.

The council has a strong reputation for service innovation, community engagement, and physical development and regeneration. In his time as a chief executive, Quirk has placed particular emphasis on developing his managers. He is proud that 12 of his former direct reports have gone on to be chief executives in local government or director-generals in the British civil service.

With a PhD in political geography, Quirk is engaged academically with two of London’s leading universities. He is an author on the topics of politics and public management. His book, Re-imagining Government, was published in 2011 to critical acclaim.  In February 2014, the UK’s independent Institute for Government is publishing a major paper by Quirk on the changing nature of democratic demands on public institutions - The Civic Square and The Public Triangle.

Quirk has co-presented with Professor John Nalbandian (of Kansas University) at several recent ICMA conferences. In 2013 he co-presented with ICMA Executive Director Bob O’Neill at the New Zealand local government managers conference in Wellington.

Having served as both president (2005) and chairman (2006-07) of SOLACE in the UK, Quirk remains a leading chief executive in the UK, with national roles on elections, service design, and community development.

Quirk commented, “Being an international member of ICMA has greatly improved my grasp of professional management issues. Seeing how colleagues in the US and other countries work to improve community outcomes in their localities is a healthy corrective for me to devise local solutions to local problems and challenges.  In this way, internationalism is a counter balance to the inevitable pressures for parochialism - even in London!”

“The most important issue for local government is how best to be relevant. Councils need to shape open communities for the modern world and they need services to be fit for the 21st century and for new generations of citizens and service users.”

Quirk’s message to the next generation of managers entering the local government is, “Bring your passions and your humanity to work.  You can only deliver the public good if you put your heart and soul into your work - not just your smartness.”

Barry Quirk has spent all his life and career in London. He has worked in five London councils, and for a brief period in the 1980s, was an elected councilor in a sixth council. He lives with his wife Katherine Kerswell, a senior civil servant, in Lewisham. 

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