Where are with Craig Humphrey and his new job? Well, the Labour councillors are looking at a legal challenge to the way that the decision has been taken, and are demanding that there be more transparency – we still do not have a public copy of the report on which this was based (it could be redacted to avoid particular details about individual council employees, couldn’t it?). Former Tory councillor David Elson has also called the decision into question.
Despite Humphrey repeatedly claiming that no one would be interested, the local papers have been carrying several letters over the past two weeks from people who appear to be very much interested.
One letter in the Observer was very interesting. It was from the Conservative Group, and was a sterling defence of the man, nay, the legend, that is Craig Humphrey. Clearly the local Tories are rattled by all this if they have to rush off letter to the press to tell us all that he’s a “thoroughly bloody good bloke” (to borrow a phrase from Harry Enfield’s Tim Nice-But-Dim).
While the council officers have been making pains, even on minor blogs like this one, to point out that Humphrey will not be the Chief Executive, Humphrey himself has been questioned by various media and has not himself denied the suggestion when made to him.
In the meantime, Eric Pickles’ statements about the Chief Executive role being a ‘non-job’ have been slightly rowed back on by his department – and he’s even been quoted as saying to leading Tory councillors that they could take the role of protector of the CEs against the bonkers Pickles. Humphrey claims that private conversations with the Secretary of State are the basis on which the change is all legal and above board. And there was me thinking that such stuff would at least be clarified by talking to some, like, legal experts (Pickles is an expert in troughing expenses, and in how to destroy a local council – see Bradford in the 90s). Indeed, I’ve seen responses to queries with Rugby Borough Council about the legal advice provided to councillors, and it seems to have been very sparse, and mostly unrelated to the actual decision itself, more about how it is being taken (in private, retrospectively and without the full financial details being available).
It’s also astounding that the Tories could (with some justification) attack the last government for making policy on the hoof without recourse to Parliament, and yet here we have an example of exactly that – the direction was indicated in a speech to a conference, has apparently been backed by private conversations, and is being pioneered by Rugby without a single word being spoken about it in the House of Commons. This is not unique – the recent announcements about bringing in greater corporate involvement in cracking down on benefit fraud, the continuing back and forth over which schools will get funds for building and which won’t, the open argument about prisons policy… all being taken on the hoof and while Parliament is in recess.
On the issue of whether we should be bothered or not, Humphrey made his point clear in a Rugby Observer article published this week:
People would not give a monkeys how Tesco’s management structure works. I know it is different where local democracy is concerned but people should judge us by the services they get.
Well, I see it a bit differently. Most people may not care how Tesco’s Board and management are set up, but I would expect that shareholders would take a keen interest. And I see residents and taxpayers to a local council as being like shareholders, not mere customers or onlookers.
Also in that article we are told that Andrew Gabbitas will effectively be the man acting as the top council official (“Head of the Paid Service”), but that Ian Davis, his colleague, will be working alongside him, while Humphreys takes all of the strategic policy work. So really, it’s a triumvirate. I look back at Roman History and the pattern for a triumvirate fairly consistent – it soon becomes 2 against 1, and when that one is isolated, there’s a showdown between the remaining 2 before the winner takes all the power. A triumvirate is not a stable structure, and it will promote confusion whenever there is even private disagreement between them. It is actually far more sensible to have a single person with responsibility someone where the ‘buck stops’, so to speak. The new arrangements mean that the buck will stop at a different person depending what the issue is.
It will also be interesting to see what the Tories at the Town Hall do in terms of cuts over the next few months. The claim is that this will save money and so protect services on the ‘front line’. Well, let’s see if front line services get hit by savings anyway, shall we?
We still have yet to see how much will actually be saved, as the remuneration committee has yet to report on how much more Humphrey, Gabbitas and Davis will be getting. We have yet to see an actual definition of the new roles that each will have, just vague generalisations from them and the assurance that we don’t need to worry ourselves about how it is done.
And still, the report that contains estimates of the savings and information about the advice provided to councillors remains private.
I can’t make the next meeting at the Town Hall, the Cabinet on Monday 23rd August (5:30pm), as I will be recovering from some surgery. However, I do want to get a question asked, and I will be submitting one. If anyone has ideas about what should be asked, or intends to go to the meeting, please make comments below.