The person who could be the next Chief Executive of the civil service has been described as “hard-working, popular and polite” by those who know her in her native Northern Ireland.
Yesterday, news broke that the head of Belfast City Council, Suzanne Wylie, was in line to become the next Chief Executive of the Government of Jersey.
If appointed – and Express understands that a contract is yet to be signed – Ms Wylie would take over from Interim Chief Executive Paul Martin next spring.
The former head of Wandsworth and Richmond Boroughs has been in charge since Charlie Parker left in controversial circumstances in March. Mr Martin's 12-month contract will expire in March.
Ms Wylie’s frontrunner status to replace him was reported in the Belfast Telegraph yesterday.
The newspaper reported that, although it was known that Ms Wylie had been looking for a new role, “a move to the Channel Islands will surprise even her closest colleagues who expected her to remain in Northern Ireland.”
The paper’s Political Correspondent Suzanne Breen, who wrote the story, told Express that Ms Wylie had a reputation for being hard-working, popular, polite, level-headed and calm. However, she has survived 30 years in Northern Ireland politics so was not someone to be underestimated.
“In her seven years in charge, she has successfully balanced the unionist and nationalist interests of the council, which is a significant achievement in itself.
“Yesterday’s news has raised a few eyebrows with councillors, who will be genuinely sorry to see her go, but Ms Wylie clearly feels that she is ready for a new challenge.”
Although Ms Wylie’s seven-year tenure as Chief Executive at Belfast City Council appears to have been overwhelmingly positive, she was embroiled in controversy last year, over the council permitting a funeral to take place of a former IRA leader during the pandemic.
Last summer, Ms Wylie and another senior civil servant apologised to eight families who had been denied the same cremation services as IRA head of intelligence Bobby Storey.
They then threatened to resign over the controversy and later investigations cleared her of any wrongdoing.
Ms Wylie has worked for the council for over 30 years, joining as an environmental health officer after graduating from the University of Ulster.
In a previous interview with Best Of Belfast, she recounted how she was tasked with inspecting animals in the abattoir.
The male workers there tested her mettle. “Sometimes in the mornings when I came in I would find all sorts of bits of animals in my welly boots because they wanted to see what kind of stuff was this girl made off,” she said.
The Telegraph reported of the podcast interview: “A workaholic who sets her alarm for 05:30, she rose through the ranks at City Hall. She put some of her success as Chief Executive down to her focus on building relationships.
“Councillors from a wide range of parties speak of Ms Wylie as ‘very accommodating’ and someone who constantly works to find compromises.
“She is a familiar figure cycling to and from work as late as 23:00 some nights. She told Best of Belfast about how she kept 'a pair of straighteners in the office' and would use the hand-dryer in the toilets to dry her hair."
The newspaper added: “Four years ago, ex-DUP councillor Graham Craig was at the centre of a sexism storm when he said he enjoyed the sight of Ms Wylie on her bike.”
Pictured: A DUP Councillor landed himself in hot water when he commented that he liked the sight of Ms Wylie on her bike.
Currently earning a basic salary of £142,500, with a £27,788 pension contribution, according to the TaxPayers’ Alliance’s 2021 ‘Town Hall Rich List’, Ms Wylie will enjoy a significant uplift in pay if she is appointed to the £250,000-a-year plus pension role.
Taking the top job in Jersey's Government would see her lead an organisation which a Scrutiny panel this week said was experiencing high staff turnover and “worrying low morale”, particularly in Health.
She would also have to decide whether to continue the reforms of Mr Parker or set a new course for the 6,000-strong civil service.
All the while, the experienced civil servant and keen cyclist will have to consider Jersey's plan to become carbon neutral by 2030.
To do that, however, she will need to be officially appointed, and that process is currently unclear, with the States due to debate next week delaying any appointment until after next June’s election.
The proposal, by Deputy Kirsten Morel, is being supported by the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel.
Asked if news of Ms Wylie being lead contender changed this, its Chairperson, Senator Kristina Moore, said: “We certainly still support the proposition, but I question whether it will be able to go to a vote.
“In an ideal world, it would happen but, in the circumstances, I see practical difficulties taking the vote: I suspect Deputy Morel might come under some legal pressure to withdraw it."
Pictured: Deputy Kirsten Morel's proposal to delay the appointment is being debated next week.
She continued: “If the Government have gone ahead and made an offer without agreeing the contract, that would be against the recommendations of the Comptroller and Auditor General, who clearly said in her last report: ‘agree the terms before making an offer’.
“I hope they have not gone that far but all the pointers we’ve seen suggest they have not listened. Part of our role is to give advice to the Government from an alternative perspective and all we are trying to say is: ‘you have made mistakes in the past so try to do it in a different way’
“But it does sound like they have not heeded our advice."
Express contacted Deputy Morel for comment yesterday but was unable to reach him.
Today, Chief Minister John Le Fondré is being questioned by Corporate Services, and is expected to be questioned about Ms Wylie’s potential appointment.
Do you have a question for the Chief Minister?— States Assembly (@StatesAssembly) September 9, 2021
Let Scrutiny’s Corporate Services Panel know!
Tomorrow at 10:30am, Senator @John_Le_Fondre, will be questioned on topics such as:
• Gov Plan 2022-25
• COVID-19 Communication and decision-making
• States Employment Board pic.twitter.com/epCcmRRl0k
Pictured: The candidate in line for the top Government job, Suzanne Wylie. (Belfast City Council)
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