The erstwhile Cllr Humphrey is quoted by the Advertiser as saying:
“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?”
Ok, so Eric Pickles isn’t interested. Based on his previous form in opposition, I’m hardly surprised that he doesn’t care. I bet he would if it were a Labour council though. However, as a member of the electorate I am, and this is why – Accountability:
The Chief Executive is accountable for the day-to-day running of the Council. He is the most senior manager of each of the council’s employees, and reports to the Councillors – primarily to the Cabinet and particularly to the Leader. In this case, Cllr Humphrey is the Leader. However, you can’t report to yourself, can you? Not effectively. Not without the hint of a conflict of interest. Additionally, the Chief Executive provides advice to the councillors on what decisions they should take. That advice is supposed to be impartial, and in the best interests of the Council and the Borough at large. To give that role to a politician risks that advice become hostage to political and partisan interests. Again, this is conflict of interests.
Now, I admit that I’m a bit of a wonk, and so I doubt that most people in Rugby would really care too much. But I wonder if they care about the following aspects:
- Undemocratic: It was not decided by a full vote of Council when it started, and was only discussed in private by the council some time afterwards, with the details only becoming public this week. It’s being presented as a fait accompli.
- Money: The Leader of the Council, Craig Humphrey, gets the following allowances (on 2009/10 amounts): £6,227 for being a councillor, plus £10,378 for being Leader, making a total of £16,605. His additional allowance for the new role is yet to be determined, but is likely to be in the range of tens of thousands of pounds. It will be claimed as a ‘saving’ as it will be less than paying a proper full-time professional Chief Executive. However, I bet that the other senior council officers also call for increases in their salaries as a result of having to take on responsibilities that a councillor is legally not allowed to, so the ‘saving’ could easily be wiped out. But Cllr Humphrey will be better off, and maybe he really needs the dosh.
- No Transparency: Usually the appointment of a new Chief Executive is done by approval of the whole Council, and follows a process that involves all of the party leaders on the council, to ensure that they can all work with him. This would not appear to have happened. Were any other options considered and discussed, any alternative people to fill the role?
- Reversible? If the Chief Executive is also the political leader, how are they removed except for in an election? If he is not up to the role, for any reason, is Craig Humphrey going to be sacked by the same local politicians who have been appointed to the Cabinet by Craig Humphrey? Also, if the Tories lose control of the council will he stay on until he’s replaced, or will a new administration have to fill the position? Usually the Chief Executive is a vital point of continuity in a council during a political change.
And on the last point from Cllr Humphrey, I am perplexed. Most medium to large companies have a Chief Executive, a Senior Manager who runs the business and reports to the Board. The Board is in turn responsible to the shareholders. In local government terms, the analogy is that the Board is the Councillors, and the shareholders are the electorate. Now, Rugby Borough Council has a turnover of about £13.5M, which is not untypical for a district council in a two-tier system (ie: alongside a County Council). An organisation of that size really should have a single chief executive, accountable to the Board. What’s more, it’s pretty much inadvisable for the Chairman of the Board (the same role as the Leader of the Council) and the Chief Executive at a company to be the same person – and usually such a change should be ratified by the full Board and by Shareholders. We ‘shareholders’ are getting no say in it whatsoever, and the Board only found out after it had happened.
Eric Pickles called the Chief Executive a ‘non-job’, recently. I think this goes to show what he understands about the real world. Look at any large company, and at the top of the management structure. They all have CEOs, and none of them are simply larking around – it’s a serious job with serious responsibilities.