Humphrey – Self Interest?

The Independent Remuneration panel (IRP) for Rugby Borough Council have issued their report on recommended allowances for councillors. It includes what they have suggested the Leader should get under the new management arrangements, as well as the basic allowance for all members of the council.

The full report can be downloaded from the council’s website here

Most of the report is pretty straightforward. There’s clarification on how co-opted members (people who are not councillors but are brought in to serve on a committee, except of course for those on the IRP itself) qualify for a small allowance of just over £500. There’s also comment on why the basic allowance of just over £6,000 should not be increased by more than inflation.

There were also suggested increases of about £500 for some of the extra allowances – for the chairs of Scrutiny and of the Crime and Disorder committees, and for the leaders of opposition groups, plus a n extra allowance of just over £2,500 for the Mayor. On the other hand, the report recommends removing extra allowances from positions of Vice Chairs of most committees.

But the most detailed explanation was devoted to their recommendation to increase the Leader’s extra allowance from £10,378 to £16,983. This is not a massive rise, but there are several comments in the report that bear repeating (their text in italics)

17.2 The Panel has a number of significant concerns about these proposals. The first is the widespread representation, within the authority and in the media, of this (‘Enhanced Leader’) model of management involving a ‘combined’ role of Leader/Chief Executive. A linked expectation has been that the Leader should therefore receive an allowance in part commensurate with a proportion of the Chief Executive salary

17.3 The Panel believes this representation to be misleading. Key responsibilities of the former Chief Executive – head of paid service, management of service delivery, elections officer, principal adviser to the Council – continue to be allocated to officers, primarily the two former Deputy Chief Executives, now titled Executive Directors. The Leader is not (could not be) an employee of the authority and has no line management authority.

17.4 Inevitably the decision to keep unfilled the Chief Executive post results in reduced senior officer capacity. The proposal has been to fill the gap in part with an additional contribution by the Leader. But the roles and skill sets of elected Members and appointed Officers are fundamentally different. On the one hand is political authority and direction and on the other professional discipline and impartial guidance. The demarcation and interaction of these two authority bases, and the moderating influence of each on the other, are the modus operandi of a local authority. It is a cornerstone of the British system of democracy. A Leader can no more be a Chief Executive than a Chief Executive can be a Leader.

So, they are essentially saying that the Council cannot simply use a councillor, a politician, to replace work that was previously the responsibility of the Chief Executive, a public servant.

17.6 What has not changed is the prescribed level of the Leader’s personal authority. The constitutional position remains that Rugby operates a political executive which provides for a Leader and Cabinet model, elected by the Council and with collective decision making within the executive.

17.7 The Panel has sought to go beyond the statements in reports and letters to obtain detailed evidence from the Leader and Executive Directors as to how the enhanced role of Leader has manifested itself, or will manifest itself, without a Chief Executive. It has been suggested to the Panel that leadership does not lend itself to measurement in a ‘time and motion’ way. Whilst the Panel accepts that some facets of leadership may not easily be measured the function is not disembodied from actions. There will be identifiable and/or recordable activities which are indicative of a leadership role. Little in the way of such detail has been offered. The Panel feels this is particularly pertinent to clarifying the more active role ascribed to the Leader ‘in strategic planning and leading change programmes’.

17.8 Whilst a case can be made for a new style of enhanced political leadership in local government, the Panel’s view is that, for the purposes of its work, such a case has not been constructed and presented.

One of the themes of questions from the public was how to evaluate the new job of the Leader, and whether he’d be asked to work the equivalent of a normal working week. The evasive answers then were along the lines presented to the IRP, and they are not impressed. The job should be measurable, or it is not a proper job, surely? The last comment is a direct challenge to the arguments put forward by Craig Humphrey that there is justification and no reasonable challenge to the changes

17.9 Another area of concern to the Panel is the ‘personalisation’ of the governance model. The proposal submitted to the Council in July to extend the interim arrangements indicated that the enhanced leader model ‘is built around the individuals’ and in the event of the Leader standing down or one of the Executive Directors leaving should be reviewed.

17.10 The Panel finds it troubling to be asked in effect to evaluate the capabilities of an individual and not the requirements of a position. That is not a satisfactory approach and not in accord with professional evaluation techniques. It is also unfortunate that the proposal was submitted and recommended only by the individuals most affected. They place themselves at risk of the criticism of self interest, whether warranted or not. Issues around the level and structure of officer resources, the roles and relationships of senior officers and members are so fundamental to the good governance of Rugby BC that they should have cross party support. After all in the future either of the opposition group leaders could become Leader. It seems reasonable therefore to have consensus on the governance arrangements, which is currently not the case.

This is very telling. If the arrangements make sense, they make sense regardless of the individual holding the role. But the way it has been set out, the way it was presented, and the way it has been argued (by Humphrey’s supporters as much as his detractors) has largely revolved around the person of Craig Humphrey, and that is of concern to the panel. It is indeed most troubling that there appears to have been pressure for an increase coming from Craig Humphrey himself (contrary to the answers he gave to public questions only three weeks ago).

17.11 The construction of management arrangements around individuals indicates a lack of sustainability in the longer term. This leads to the Panel’s final concern which is that in July the Council approved the interim arrangements ‘permanently’ ie indefinitely, although with a programmed review in 2012. The Panel is firmly of the opinion that this is too strong a commitment and too long a timeframe.

17.12 The Panel is aware that the authority will soon be required to consider (and implement in 2011) amendments to its political executive structure, with the choice being between Elected Mayor or Strong Leader options. It would seem to make sense (at least to the Panel) that the interim arrangements should not extend beyond that timescale and, taking that change on board, a cross party review be arranged to consider more permanent governance arrangements including member and officer structures and roles. This would have the benefit of detailed feedback and evidence from the ‘interim experience’. The Panel believes it would preferable if such a review had the benefit of external facilitation.

This is a challenge to the idea that the new arrangements be permanent, and points out that there’s an upcoming review of the whole structure – that the Council should know was due – which would have been a better way to look at all of these issues with the opportunity for consensus, public participation and external assistance.

17.14 The Panel agrees that any change should be accountable, transparent and open and the Council should reflect upon the implications of these words in terms of the public perception of change, the holding to account of the Leader in the democratic procedures of the Council and the need for openness of approach. The Panel’s view is that, to date, there would appear to have been little thought or reflection upon these aspects of change. In any model of enhanced political authority being exercised by an individual thought should be given to the necessary checks and balances in the interests of good governance.

The bolded passage is particularly pertinent.

17.15 The Panel is of the opinion therefore that a fully informed assessment of the Leader’s SRA can only be made after this recommended further review of governance. Nevertheless the Panel has a responsibility to recommend an SRA for the Leader in relation to the interim position, based on its analysis and the information it has been able to obtain.

17.16 Whilst the Panel does not accept there is credible evidence for a ‘premium rate’ SRA, based on a combined Leader/Chief Executive model – a model it rejects – it does accept that there are consequences for the Leader arising out of the interim management arrangements. Since 2006 the Leader’s role and profile has developed in the ‘external relations’ work of the authority, including ambassadorial and representational roles in the various partnership and multi agency arenas at county, sub-regional, regional and national levels. Since the Chief Executive left the Leader has been managing this role ‘without substantial officer support’. On this basis the Panel believes there is some justification to revise the Leader’s SRA.

So, they explain why there is a justification for an increase, but at the same time clearly reject the model being presented to them, not least because there hasn’t been proper thought put to what the new arrangements will be, how they would be evaluated etc.

17.18 The Panel has been informed by the Leader and Executive Directors that the verifiable average time commitment of the Leader on authority work currently is 18 hours per week. The Panel had been asked to take into account, given the state of flux in public sector policy with the new Government, the strong expectation that the Leader’s time commitment would rise in the coming months. The Panel does not however consider it right to anticipate what might or might not develop in the future. Better to review the position again at an appropriate time.

And here’s an answer that Humphrey himself could not give when the public wanted to know if he’d work the equivalent of a professional day. It is not a concern whether it’s between 9am and 5pm, but clearly at an average of 18 hours a week (and this is at the time that the arrangement is already in place), the Leader is not a full-time role.

The conclusions I draw are the following:

1) Craig Humphrey appears to have proposed a far higher allowance for himself than the IRP believes is appropriate, and when the proposals were made they had far too little evidence to justify them. The point made about accusations of self-interest is right on the money.

2) The Leader/Chief Executive role is not something that should be brought in without proper consultation. Doing it behind closed doors and using a retro-active decision goes against the norms of transparent democratic governance, and it also appears to be a concern to some, even if Tory Ministers don’t care.

3) The enhanced Leader’s role is not a full-time job, which means that the two officers who will be stepping up to cover for the lack of Chief Executive will clearly have to take on a lot more work and responsibility. I can only guess at the increased salaries that they will be asking for and getting as a result of a new evaluation of the jobs they do.

As far as I can see, Humphrey’s position is becoming untenable. Those who blindly support him should also be considering their role in all this – nodding through a private decision, keeping the details secret, allowing one man so much power… At least the Independent Remuneration Panel have provided a wake-up call. Let’s see if the Tories at Rugby Town Hall are listening to it.

6 Responses to “Humphrey – Self Interest?”

  1. PLH Says:

    A great post. Very thoughtful and even-handed.

    I read the report open mouthed. The panel’s incredulity at the new arrangement seaps off every page. They have issued a report which cuts through the spin and shines a light on some very questonable practices.

    Cllr. Humphrey has received a report which shoudl seriously make him consider his position.

  2. Danivon Says:

    Points 17.10 and 17.14 appear to be pretty much the key ones. The language in the report is understated and typically set out so as not to be too provocative. But even so, it show a lot of concern about how the decision was made, and how much involvement Craig Humphrey has had in lobbying for a pay rise.

    It also seems to directly contradict some of the messages put out to the public about the changes.

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  5. Anon Says:

    It’s a disgrace. One man’s megalomania has given rise to huge upheaval and ill-feeling within the council and the community: all to serve his own financial ambitions. His position is untenable, and if he has one shred of dignity – which hasn’t shown itself in recent times – then the man should resign with immediate effect. Or be pushed by those who were too weak to oppose this unholy Coronation. How damning is this independent report on the processes of Rugby? Shame on you to all involved!!

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