Wednesday, August 04, 2010

When a Council Leader Became Chief Executive Too...

I'm all for councils rationising their senior executive positions, but I do wonder about THIS story from Rugby. Apparently the local council leader is taking over as chief executive of the council, in addition to his leader's role. This would be akin to Jim Hacker taking over Sir Humphrey's role too.

Leading a council and being its chief executive are two very different roles and although I have never been a councillor I just cannot see how it would work.

What might work is for two councils to share a chief executive, and maybe combine back office functions to create efficiencies.

From the Rugby Advertiser...
Critics of the move, which was implemented without a council vote, question how suited councillors are to overseeing a complex multi-million pound organisation. Those in favour see the combined role as an ideal way of cutting costs at a time when public spending is under scrutiny.

Explaining how the new role works, Cllr Humphrey said: "Our main concern is that as our budget comes under pressure we are able to find ways to protect frontline services.

"We may be the first authority in the country to combine the roles but we won't be the last."

Cllr Humphrey added: "I had a chat with Eric Pickles at the LGA conference and he was quite straight forward with what he thinks should
be done.

"He's not interested in our management structure and neither are the electorate – and why should they be?

"The crucial question is can an authority the size of Rugby justify paying a chief executive?"

Asked whether officers and the electorate could be assured of officers remaining non-politicised, he said: "I don't think it's an issue. There is a clear distinction between the role of myself, and of those of the managerial officers.

"There is a protocol between councillors and directors and anyone combining the roles has to be very aware of exactly what their role involves.

"Over the past few months the system has worked well. I have attended to the political side of things while the technical side of running the council has been left to the officers."

Cllr Humphrey's financial renumeration for the role was the focal point of a report – which has not been made public – presented to council's cabinet on Tuesday night.

Cllr Humphrey said: "Although the financial aspect of how this works is yet to be finalised, the extra amount I receive will be nowhere near as much as a chief executive."

I don't know much about Councillor Humphrey's background and skill set, but I would question whether every council leader was entirely suited to being chief executive too.

12 comments:

Maximus Clark said...

atleast it means the fella is accountable for the outcomes of his council. Jim Hacker never made the decisions he just took the flak. This guy will do both so there are benefits, and it may go some of the way to attracting council leaders who are capable of such a job.

Andrew Marshall said...

I agree with your concerns Iain. I don't think Eric Pickles is right when he says that he doesn't know what council chief executives do and that leaders can do their jobs. By all means share across districts and avoid excessive management teams, but you need some form of senior experienced managers, and I am not convinced councillors are generally qualified to take the chief executive role. The public wants to keep a clear distinction between politicians, who it votes for, can kick out, and shouldn't be overpaid, and public servants, who should be appointed on merit. I'm not keen on blurring these roles.

Clameur de Haro said...

Will he continue to draw his attendance allowances etc etc as Leader when acting as Chief Executive? Will he sign off on his own expense claims?

Troubling, but never mind - I'm sure he subjected himself to the mosat rigorous and seaching questioning when interviewing himself for the post.

No? Surely not?

Tony Butcher said...

I think the biggest concern is the politics of it. Leadership of the Council is a political position, dictated by the party with the largest number of seats on the council.
Therefore the leader takin the Chief Exec role immediately makes that a politcal position - one which he was not elected to do. Additionally what happens if there is a change in the council composition and he is no longer leader? Does the next leader take on the job?
It does seem a dangerous move and is it really saving any money?

Village Bookworm said...

Interesting! He is effectively becoming an executive mayor. So long as: 1) he does not hold a statutory post eg Finance, legal or Head of paid service.
2)He takes professional advice from his management team, hopefully publishing it.
3) It saves money.

Good luck to him!

Hopefully he also has a stable political group and a good sense that in a place like Rugby, at some stage he may well have a swing against him and a labour member in post.

Dick the Prick said...

Town Clerk, ya mean? Nah, as long as he's not chief monitoring officer too, then good luck.

Chief Exec was/is a ridiculous title, should be ended.

rob's uncle said...

He is, in effect, converting himself into a Mayor without going to the bother of getting himself elected as such.

He is a plumber according to today's Private Eye [Aug 6 p. 11]. He will be paid c.£60,00 in toto, half what the now departed chief exec was getting.

He was appointed at a meeting from which press and public were excluded.

http://www.rugby.gov.uk/site/scripts/news_article.php?newsID=714
http://www.rugby.gov.uk/site/scripts/councillors_info.php?councillorID=26&viewBy=name

jmjmeyer said...

Surely this is illegal?

It is a case of a Cllr being the top director of the council and therefore it is a POLITICALLY RESTRICTED POST under
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND HOUSING ACT 1989

Under Section 1 of the Act, no holder of a politically restricted post can become or remain a member of any authority to which the provisions apply!!

rob's uncle said...

One further material point: this decision [says the council statement] confirmed Cllr Humphrey in the role that he had been fulfilling on an acting basis since February. So his colleagues know how competent he is.

No doubt he is much better prepared for this role than most of the directly elected mayors.

Roger Thornhill said...

1. As @DtheP says, this role is Town Clerk and all so-called CEO's need reminding of their humility that must go with such a role.

2. I am with jmjmeyer - IIRC this is illegal and for good reason: Checks and balances. Most executive council posts exclude politically active people. And no, him becoming temporarily "independent" will not cut it.

3. @robs' uncle: " So his colleagues know how competent he is." Hahhahahaahahahahahaha. Yeh, right, this is how I see all such appointments being decided.

Scary Biscuits said...

I don't know much about Councillor Humphrey's background and skill set, but I would question whether every council leader was entirely suited to being chief executive.

I would question whether anybody is suitable for the £200k p.a. that seems the going rate for a Town Clerk in a small town these days.

There's far too much money sloshing about in councils. It's not just the overpaid senior officers, who could never get a comparable job in private industry (and why would they want to for 25% of the pay?); increasingly its the councillors too. How can they be expected to defend taxpayers from officials on the gravy train when they are passengers too?

matt wright said...

Iain, Although it is a novel suggestion, as a County Councillor I think it could work. You would still have senior officers responsible for each directorate. Clearly they are the non-political specialists giving operational advice. Most councils now have a Cabinet along with the leader and the Cabinet is the strategic direction for the council working alongside the senior officers in each directorate. Therefore there is no theoretical clash or difficulty in removing the CE. Also there would be no clash for signing things off as all councils by law have to have a finance director who in effect is indepedently accountable and the council audited. Indeed years ago few councils had CE's. Now none of what I say suggests some CE's aren't good and capable, in fact some are excellent, but I can't see any theoretical problems in not having a CE. In some cases it could be better, as well as cheaper, because some CEs regard themselves as the Leader and this leads to a lack of clarity about the direction of a council.