An exclusive with John van de Laarschot, Chief Exec at Stoke-on-Trent City Council
The Chief Exec for Stoke-on-Trent City Council has now been in position for 15 months. John van de Laarschot came to a city with a council already in need of great improvement, and then had to take on the added challenge of widespread budget cuts. In this exclusive interview, Jonathan Bellamy spent one hour with the man, and discovered his take on council cuts, regeneration, education, elections, his vision for the future and why he would rather be in Stoke-on-Trent than a beach in Newquay. Here is a timely and rare insight into a man tasked with moving the city forward.
Who Is John van de Laarschot?
Jonathan: Who is John van de Laarschot? What are your likes and dislikes? Do you have any favourite hobbies?
John: Well I'm the current Chief Executive of the city council. I have a lot of hobbies; not all of which are very well catered for up here, with the principle one being surfing. We are a long way from the ocean so I am having to learn to water-ski behind canal boats at the moment.
Jonathan: Do you have any dislikes apart from water-skiing behind canal boats?
John: Yes, I guess I have some concerns up here. From what I've found as an outsider Stoke-on-Trent is probably one of the friendliest places in the world; but people make do up here rather than push the boundaries and demand excellence. That's a little bit of a challenge that I think we need to overcome collectively over the next few years.
Jonathan: Are you a driven man? Are you a workaholic?
John: I don't like the term workaholic, but I put in 150% at all times.
Jonathan: What about adventure? Recently you were gunged for Comic Relief and it was mentioned before you came here that you did Wife Swap for Channel 4. Do you like a little bit of adventure?
John: I'm a firm believer in pushing the boundaries. Getting gunked was quite an experience. It was very cold and sticky, but I think collectively with all the other players, that raised about £4,000 for comic relief, so that was great. Yes, you're right, in my past I have done 'Wife-Swap'. It's an interesting concept. It's about putting yourself in an environment where you are challenged and seeing how you react, which I always think is good fun.
Jonathan: Was it good to get your real wife back?
John: Yes of course it was. You know it's a very interesting experience to be put totally outside of your comfort zone. My end read on it and from what I've been told by most of my friends and colleagues, is that we came out of it ok; we kept our integrity in tact and actually tried to provide some value back to a community and to a group of individuals that's perhaps less fortunate than ourselves.
Jonathan: Apart from your current job role what do you think has been the greatest adventure of your life? If you look back and think 'wow I'm proud I did that'?
John: I'm pleased with a lot of things that I've accomplished and I probably wouldn't change very much. I certainly enjoyed myself working overseas on the African continent and in the Middle East selling soft drinks. I'm also quite pleased that I eventually managed the transition from the private sector to the public.