Local government loses 'strongest advocate' Rowsell

By Martin Ford | 22 March 2024

Tributes have been paid across the local government sector following the sudden death of Paul Rowsell.

A key figure in the recent history of devolution, Rowsell devoted more than 40 years to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and its predecessors, most recently as head of the governance reform and democracy unit.

He was awarded a CBE in the 2017 New Year’s honours for services to local government.

Following Rowsell’s passing on 14 March, former communities secretary Greg Clark described him as ‘the UK’s greatest authority on local governance’ while the current incumbent, Michael Gove, remembered him as ‘one of our very best civil servants’.

CIPFA chief executive, Rob Whiteman, said: ‘He exemplified the very best of the civil service: knowledgeable, experienced, wise and courteous.’

Rowsell started his career with local government in finance before joining Whitehall, becoming ‘one of local government’s strongest advocates’, according to DLUHC permanent secretary Sarah Healey.

She said: ‘Paul’s commitment to local government and the civil service was an inspiration. If you didn’t know him personally, you would have known him by reputation.

‘Despite his more than 40 years of service, Paul never lost his reformist zeal. He always strived to make things better and never fell into the trap of thinking change isn’t possible or necessary.’

Most recently he has been key to the negotiation of devolution deals and local government reorganisation across England.

Healey also revealed Rowsell’s role as the UK’s representative to the Council of Europe committees on democracy and local government, driving up democratic standards on the continent.

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he has also provided support to the Ukrainian government and local authorities, helping them to deliver basic services throughout the conflict.

She added: ‘Paul will be missed by all those who knew and worked with him and is a sad loss to the civil service and the national and local government of the whole country.’

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Whitehall People Devolution Reorganisation Greg Clark Michael Gove DLUHC