Local press round up

Monday’s meeting of the Rugby Borough Council Cabinet made all three of the local papers. The Observer only arrived this morning, so I waited until I’d read it before compiling this.

The bigger story for them is the Council’s opposition to cuts in the Judicial services, particularly the Government’s plan to close Rugby Magistrates Court. The reasons for objection actually show that making savings in public services is not always so simple as people and politicians think. Read the rest of this entry »

The farce of Question Time

I wasn’t going to go to the Cabinet meeting at Rugby Town Hall last night. I had an operation to repair a hernia at St Cross last week and wasn’t sure if I’d be up to it. As the procedure went well and I was feeling fitter yesterday, I decided to trundle down there. Not that being there changes anything, but I wanted to see first hand how the Tories are handling the opposition to Craig Humprey’s new arrangement. Read the rest of this entry »

By the way

It has occurred to me – and to others – that it’s pretty unclear when the new role for Craig Humphrey started.

It was ratified by the Council (in private) in July , but after the fact. He claims that it was approved by Eric Pickles in private conversations, possibly after Pickles’ speech on council ‘non-jobs’ in late June.

But when the council have been asked what the basis for the decision is, they have pointed all the way back to the start of the interim arrangements in March, as approved (in private) in February. Back then, at least in public, it was only being suggested that the two Directors would cover for the departing Chief Executive pending a merger with Nuneaton & Bedworth or another permanent solution. No mention was made in public of the Leader taking on more responsibility.

So when did it start? I guess that Cllr Humphrey will want to have any increase in his allowances backdated to that point – indeed, I hear that he’s pretty keen to ensure that it is.

My Question to Craig Humphrey

To be raised at the next Cabinet Meeting on 23 August 2010 (5:30pm at the Town Hall)

In January of this year, I asked a question about public participation in and access to information
from Council meetings. I was assured that there would be some progress. At the very same meeting of the Cabinet it was decided not to allow the public to speak at Planning Meetings (despite this being standard practice at many District-level councils).

Since then, there have been many decisions taken by Cabinet and Full Council in the private parts of the meetings. Notable among these have been those to alter the management structure at the Council and to increase the responsibilities of the Leader. It is only in retrospect that the public has become aware of the latter change, and the basis for the decisions are still not in the public domain.

It is not even clear, apart from through assurances, that the new arrangements have been independently verified as being fully in compliance with the law, or whether the new Leader’s role should not me more appropriately filled by a person directly elected as Mayor for the whole borough.

The Leader has claimed that the public would not be interested in the changes. I can assure him that as a council tax payer a local resident I am most interested in how such changes have been made, and I know that I am not the only one.

In the light of this information, will the Leader and the Council now make public as much information possible about the way that these decisions have been reached, and accept that up to now they have been acting against the interests of open and transparent democracy?

The question I asked in January can be found here

If anyone wants to have a question asked, they can get details on how to do so from the Council’s website – Questions at Cabinet and Scrutiny Panels – Please note that a question for the next Cabinet meeting has to be received by 10am on Friday 20th. If your question is long, it is better to send an email, as the web-based form has a limit of 255 characters.

I can’t make the meeting, but the question should still be asked and answered. I’ve also circulated a copy to the local print media in case they take an interest.

More on Craig Humphrey

So…

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Humphrey – the responses

The story about the changes at Rugby has spread in the last few days. As well as the local government press, ConservativeHome picked it up (although the article having been edited by Harry Phibbs, it is full of oddness).

I also have been shown a response to a Freedom of Information request which suggests that the only legal advice provided to councillors at last week’s meeting was over whether the decision should be discussed in the public or private part of the meeting (it was taken in the private portion).

On this blog, we had a comment arrive from someone based at the Town Hall:

Matthew Deaves Says:
August 5, 2010 at 08:27

The following link may provide answers to some of your questions.
http://www.rugby.gov.uk/site/scripts/news_article.php?newsID=714
To clarify – Cllr Humphrey will not be Chief Executive.

Also, the arrangement was debated and agreed at Full Council in February.
http://www.warwickshire.gov.uk/corporate/RBCcomsys.nsf/120695309873fa1780256b1200463b76/518829a3e0691293802576c70059e159?OpenDocument

Having read the meeting minutes from February, all I can see is that a decision was taken (in the private portion of that meeting) to approve the interim arrangements that would apply after March. Back in February, it was known that Simon Warren was leaving in March to take up the post of Chief Executive at Wolverhampton. It was also the case that Rugby was looking to merge their administrative functions with neighbouring Nuneaton, and so we the public were under the impression that the interim arrangements were to cover until a unified Chief Executive took over.

But in May, the Tories lost control of Nuneaton, and the merger was killed off. So Rugby had to look for a more permanent solution. They claim that this is to simply extend the same arrangements. However, back in February, I don’t recall much mention of extra responsibility for the Leader, only that the two deputies, Andrew Gabbitas and Ian Davis, would take over the responsibilities.

Now we are being told that the two deputies will be promoted to ‘Executive Director’ and that Cllr Humphrey will take over responsibility for various strategic areas that would usually be taken by a Chief Executive. Now, not only is Cllr Humphrey’s allowance going to be reviewed, but so are the salaries of the new Executive Directors. It remains to be seen how much of an actual saving will be being made.

Mind you, if the Borough Council is looking at ideas for savings, and is making it known that it may be ‘too small’ to have a CEO, then perhaps it doesn’t need 48 borough councillors? Especially when the real decisions are made by the half-dozen or so who sit in the Cabinet, under the now aggrandised Craig Humphrey.

And if we are going to have one councillor who is carrying such responsibility as Cllr Humphrey is, why not have them be an elected mayor, and do it properly?

The one thing that I don’t understand is why this has been decided behind closed doors, and why we still have not had a full, easy to understand, explanation of what responsibilities have been transferred from a council officer to a councillor. It’s one thing to put in place interim arrangements to fix a short-term gap, but quite another to bring in an indefinite solution.

I believe that Cllr Humphrey is a plumber by trade. I’m sure he knows the difference between a quick bodge to stop a drip, and the real solution which is to replace a faulty part. You don’t leave the bodge in permanently, as it can easily make the problem worse in the long run.

No one will care about a power grab

Thanks to my guest for the URL for the Advertiser article about Craig Humphrey’s new job.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

Craig Humphrey – A second job?

I’ve been told that in the latest edition of the Rugby Advertiser there’s an article about Craig Humphrey. He is the leading councillor at Rugby Borough Council, leader of the Conservative Group and of the Cabinet.

For some time, Rugby has been without a Chief Executive – that’s the most senior public servant. For some time there were two senior officers deputising, and this was a temporary arrangement while the idea of a merger with Nuneaton was being discussed. In May, the Tories lost control of Nuneaton to Labour, and the merger was called off.

So, Rugby should have been looking for a new Chief Executive, right? Well, apparently they didn’t need to look too far, because Councillor Humphrey is taking the role on.

However, it seems to me to be wholly inappropriate for the leading councillor to be an employee of the council. Indeed, I thought that no employee of the council could even stand in election to the same council, let hold a seat. So how is this being done legally?

What’s more, the job of the CE is not only to carry out the wishes of the Council, but also to advise the Council and to ensure that it remains inside the law. How can he be accountable to himself, advise himself, and monitor himself? It’s an ethical nightmare.

Now, I haven’t read the Advertiser (and the piece is not on their sparse website), so I don’t have the full picture. If anyone who reads this has any more information, I’d love to hear it (email address on the right, or comments below). Because this has a really, really, dodgy odour to it.