Kathy O’Leary has been chief executive of Stroud District Council since November. Here, she answers SNJ readers' questions.

How have you enjoyed your first few months in the job?

I’ve really enjoyed my last few months. I’ve met local community groups, residents, businesses, it’s really helped me to get a good flavour of what the main issues are for people in Stroud. I’ve been from top to bottom in the district. Without exception people have been incredibly friendly.

It’s such a fabulous part of the country. I’ve been blown away. It’s a district of real diversity and beauty.

What is being done to protect Stroud town centre?

I think it’s fair to say that most market towns in the country are undergoing the same problems. We are experiencing sea change in the retail industry with more people shopping online. Council’s are being encouraged to revisit town centres and think about them in terms of places to visit rather than just about the retail experience. We’ve been working with Dramsfield Properties, Stroud Town Council, the Gloucestershire Local Enterprise Partnership and the County Council to put together a bid for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Future High Street fund. It’s £675million pot and we’ve made a sizeable bid for money to support development in Stroud town centre. That’s not just about the Merrywalks Centre because that’s already got a lot of private sector money going into it.

We’re also trying to work out how to use the canal because we’ve got a huge amount of heritage fund money that we’ve already used to help regenerate the canal. We need to work harder on the pulls to the town centre. That’s what the High Street funding is all about it’s recognising Britain is making a sea change shift away from just having shops in town centres. It’s more about the experience.

How does the closure of Stroud’s Tourist Information Centre tie into that?

There will be something to replace it. After listening to the public really carefully over the future of the Sub Rooms you know that the council transferred the venue and the operation of it to Stroud Town Council and that’s administered by a trust. The Sub Room trust unfortunately couldn’t include a Tourist Information Centre as part of the offer. The trust has charitable status and that’s not permitted. We’ve made a grant of £2,000 to each of our seven market towns including Stroud to help support new Tourist Information Centre locations and funding so a lot of the town council’s have already taken us up on that. Stroud’s investigating it and I’m pretty confident there will be another Tourist Information Centre in the town.

Any plans to bring in free parking in Stroud or elsewhere?

We don’t want to prevent shoppers and other people coming in to the town centres being able to find spaces.

Before I was CEO the council did consider whether or not to bring in car parking charges in a number of other towns including Nailsworth and local people felt very strongly that they didn’t want that and that is what councillors then supported. They not only didn’t charge for some of the car parks they proposed to charge for but also car parking charges were withdrawn in Painswick and Stonehouse. We know the reason why car parking charges were introduced in Painswick and Stonehouse in the first place was to maintain a churn so shoppers and visitors could actually park. Historically the evidence was in Stonehouse the free car park was stuffed up with commuters because of the railway station. It wasn’t helping the town at all. In Painswick the issue was that lots of local residents and businesses were filling up the car parks. We’ve left the gate open. We’ve withdrawn the charges for the current year and we will review how that’s working at the end of the year.

How would you respond to those questioning your salary?

It does reflect the significant responsibilities of the job. I was selected from a really good field of candidates in a pretty rigorous process. I bring a wealth of experience and expertise. It isn’t just about the money I have public service ingrained in me. If I ever wanted to be driven purely by money I probably wouldn’t be working in the public sector at all. The Chief Executive’s salary here is quite modest in terms of others so for me it is not about money its about the love of the job.

Thoughts on the council tax rise?

It was a very very small rise. Most residents don’t understand that such a very small proportion comes to the district council. It’s not a significant amount. We have not cut our services at all we’ve been putting more money into services. Councillors feel very very strongly about that.