BASINGSTOKE and Deane Borough Council have confirmed its new chief executive.

The appointment of Russell O'Keefe was officially ratified by councillors at a meeting last night, following an interview process that saw 38 people apply for the top job, which was quickly whittled down to 11.

Russell takes over from Melbourne Barrett, who left at the start of September to become chief executive at Nottingham City Council.

He is set to pick up a salary of £149,000, along with a generous civil service pension package, the option for flexible working and free car parking.

Council employees also receive healthcare, discounts at restaurants and retailers and free tea and coffee.

Russell said: “I’m delighted and honoured to be appointed as the Chief Executive of Basingstoke and Deane Council.

"I’m really looking forward to joining the council and working closely with the Leader, councillors, staff and partner organisations to continue to support communities through the impacts of COVID-19, deliver the very best services for residents and businesses and ensure the borough continues to thrive in the future."

Speaking at Thursday night's meeting, council leader Ken Rhatigan said: "I believe that Russell O'Keefe, in all of the interactions between officers, ourselves and the outside individuals, has proven to be an excellent candidate.

"It is a vital role for us going forward. We want a chief exec that meets the ambition and some of the trust we all have to have in our leaders.

"It is important that the role of chief executive combines that as head of paid service to support the officers, but also has the trust of us members that we can go to them for any issues.

"I would like to express my thanks to the councillors involved, to officers who took part in the process.

"It was a difficult process during a Covid period where we could not see as many applications as we wanted in the flesh."

Cllr Rhatigan also paid thanks to Labour councillor Tony Jones, who suggested that the final candidates attended a behind-closed-doors meeting of the Human Resources committee in person.

"It added an element of realism, because in virtual meetings there is a sense of distance, that it is not quite real, and for a position as important and vital to our borough, it was a telling intervention from him to make sure we had a live shortlisting and run-through of the final three candidates," Cllr Rhatigan said.

Cllr Laura Edwards, chair of the HR committee, added: "I am looking forward to Russell joining the council and a new chapter."

Russell has been in his current role as executive director of place and deputy managing director at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead since 2016.

During this time, he was also acting managing director for an interim period, assuming overall leadership of the council and working closely with councillors and external partners.

His previous roles at Norwich City Council included executive head - strategy, people and neighbourhoods and head of strategy and programme management. While at Norwich, Russell had a dual role as interim director at Great Yarmouth Borough Council with a primary focus to drive forward organisational improvement.

BDBC hope that Russell will begin his role in January. Until that time executive director of borough development and deputy chief executive Ian Boll will continue in the interim chief executive role.