To Craig Humphrey: An apology and a warning

In a recent post, I made a mistake. It’s something I should have known not to do, but for some reason I thought perhaps things might be different in Rugby from Crawley. My mistake? To take a Lib Dem at face value.

Thankfully, Ish has shown me the error. You see, I read a letter in the Rugby Advertiser in which Cllr Neil Sandison says (amongst other things) that Craig Humphrey had suggested to the Boundary Commission that the next Borough Elections, due in May 2011, be suspended.

What Cllr Sandison did not say was where the suggestion had actually originally come from. 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.

How many times will we have to say “told you so”?

Skuds has an example of a the following phenomenon:

  • Before the election, Labour gets wind that the Tories have some policy that we think people won’t like.
  • Labour puts out a leaflet suggesting that the Tories may do this thing
  • The Tories go apeshit, claiming that the leaflet is lies and scaremongering
  • The Tories form the next government in coalition with the Lib Dems
  • The coalition starts to suggest or even roll out the very policy that they denied they were thinking of and accused Labour of underhandedness for talking about

This one is about the new proposals to stop the use of secure tenancy for council housing:

There was also the refusal by Cameron to promise to keep to the two weeks to get an appointment if you have a suspected cancer.

And the whole thing about how the cuts will affect frontline services even though the Tories denied that they would.

I’m sure there are more. This is not new, either. Before the 1979 election the [i]Daily Mail[/i] printed a list of ‘Labour Lies’ from campaign literature. Several of them turned out to be pretty much on the mark. One that was not quite as predicted was that the Tories would double VAT. They increased it from 8% to 15%, which is of course a whole 1% short of double.

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.

Clegg – liar liar, pants on fire

He’s not having a good time of it, is he? There’s been the whole Forgemasters debacle, where he supported the cancellation of a loan that has caused damage to his own constituents in Sheffield. To make that worse, he was disingenuous about the reasons for his support. He claimed that the directors wouldn’t agree to dilute their shareholdings, until proof came that they had agreed. He said the money wasn’t there, until proof came out that the Treasury had the money. He claimed it was done in the wrong manner, before proof came out that the civil servants had signed off the loan as being all above board.

When he ran out of excuses he ended up bumbling at the Despatch Box and calling the whole point of Prime Minister’s Questions into question (it’s not there for the personal opinions of the PM or whoever is deputising, it’s there to provide answers from the Government as a whole). One thing we do know is that a businessman from the area, who wanted to do a deal with Forgemasters before the loan came along and who and donated a large amount of money to the Tories before the election, wrote a letter to ask that the loan be cancelled.

And now he’s in a new pickle. Before the election, Vince Cable and Nick Clegg were telling voters that cutting spending too early was dangerous. “Economic masochism” he called it. But after the election, he went along with deep and immediate cuts.

For some time he was telling us that the situation had changed and things were worse than he’d thought. Yet figures that came out in June showed that the deficit was lower than expected, and we now know that economic growth was higher. He claimed that Mervyn King had a chat with him and that had changed his mind as a result of dire new information and advice from the head of the Bank of England. But Mr King has since stated that he didn’t tell Clegg anything in private that he hadn’t earlier said at a press conference that was widely reported.

Now it seems that Clegg actually changed his mind some time during the election campaign. Which means (if we can take his latest story at face value), that he spent at least some of the time lying to voters – telling them that he would oppose something that he actually secretly supported.

It’s odd, at the very time he was being hailed as a breath of fresh air, as the ‘honest’ man among the three main leaders during the televised debates, it seems that he didn’t believe what he was saying to the electorate. He was at the height of popularity in late April, and by the end of July he’s been revealed as being utterly shallow.

Meanwhile, our PM is doing a tour of countries, each of which sees him pander to their views by using undiplomatic terms to describe their rivals, leading to at the very least a lot of muttering in Israel and Pakistan.

And we’ve got another four years and nine months of this?

Gove’s grab for power

Tom Freeman has a great little investigation into the upcoming Bill to push through hundreds of new Academy schools, and comes to the conclusion that parents and local communities will get far less influence than the Secretary of State for Education:

This Bill is not about ‘parent power’. It’s about Gove’s power to bypass local councils and parliament, and it’s about governing bodies being able to bypass parents.

Is it a good idea to change the academies programme from being a way to rescue failing schools into an optional upgrade for potentially any school? What will be the effect not just on the schools that go for it but also on the wider education system? I’m afraid I’ve not had the chance to think this through. I’m not sure who has.

Gove claims that we don’t need to consult on his idea because it was discussed enough during the election campaign (despite the small point that the Tories didn’t win that election, and their coalition partners stood on a different kind of policy to enable school partnerships under local authority control). And this – as well as the Free Schools – will be funded from the cancellation of the Building Schools for the future programme.

Trafigura Guilty

Back in October 2009, there was a stir when Trafigura and their lawyers Carter-Ruck tried to quell discussion and reports about the allegations over the oil company’s involvement in the dumping of loads of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast.

Of course, their ‘super-injunction’ backfired with a Streisand Effect (the act of trying to cover something up leading to it being more widely known).

Nine months later, and finally Trafigura have been found legally liable, after a Dutch court fined them €1m (£840,000) for exporting the waste from Amsterdam. A company employee and the captain of the Probo Koala were also found guilty and fined for their part.

Trafigura will, of course, seek an appeal. But until then, and if it fails, there’s no way that they can try to sue any one for libel if they say that Trafigura illegally sent noxious chemicals to Africa to be dumped, which led to tens of thousands of people falling ill. Hopefully, this will open the door to better compensation, and at the very least make it harder for international companies to so casually exploit the third world.

Too Drunk to Vote

A Tory MP, one of the new intake, was so enamoured of the cheap booze on offer in the bars there that he ended up missing a vote – going home on what appears to be the ‘autopilot’ that takes over the totally sloshed.

His name? Mark Reckless.

Nice of the quote given to resemble the title of a Dead Kennedys song, too.

(Hat tip to Paul Burgin at Mars Hill)

Buying a government… Trust for cash

While Michael Gove is blundering his way through the destruction of the Building Schools for the Future programme, he’s taking a lot of attention. However, he’s not the only Tory minister we need to be keeping a beady eye on.

Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health, set out a nice piece of Quid Pro Quo today. Basically, the ‘Change4Life’ adverts are going to be fully paid for by the food and drink industry, so the government can cut their funding. At the same time, Lansley has promised not to introduce any legislation to make food and drink manufacturers adhere to tighter standards, or to put the prices of unhealthy foods up.

The ideology behind this is that businesses that make money from selling fatty and sugary foods loaded with chemicals can ‘self-regulate’. It’s similar to how before the credit-crunch it was thought that a lighter touch regulation regime for banking was a good idea.

However, Mr Lansley knows all about self-regulation, and is a prime example of how much people can be trusted not to abuse such a position. The MPs expenses system was set up by MPs and involved a good degree of trust. Lansley took that trust and claimed a few grand to do up his house just before flipping it and selling it at a profit.

See? If the Secretary of State for Health thinks self-regulation is a good thing, who are we to argue?

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