Posted by:19 April, 2012
Chief executives who overhaul their councils too thoroughly may be doing themselves out of a job, writes Ruth Keeling.
In an interview with LGC, the leader of chiefless Kent CC has questioned whether local authorities need a chief executive if they have a strong management team and have a clear vision.
In Kent’s case, he says, “a lot of hard work and thought over the last 18 months to two years” means “we know what we want to do”. Over the same period there was a massive reorganisation and recruitment of senior officers and Cllr Carter says the council now has “probably the best senior management team we’ve ever had”.
This era of reorganisation and setting of direction tallies almost exactly with the tenure of the last managing director, Kent’s equivalent of a chief executive. Indeed, when Katherine Kerswell’s departure was announced, an official statement said she had done “an exceptional job at Kent reshaping our approach to service delivery and recasting our overall management arrangements”.
And it’s not just Kent that has paid this unfortunate compliment to its outgoing chief executive, creating a bizarre incentive to make sure the job isn’t done too well.
Cllr Carter’s rationale for doing away with the top officer role has loud echoes of the reasoning voiced by Wiltshire council leader Jane Scott when she announced its chief executive role would be deleted.
At the time she said chief executive Andrew Kerr, who had also been in the role for just 18 months, had done “an excellent job” developing the recently created unitary’s business plan and strategy. So much so, she said, that “in one way, he has worked his way out of a job”.
Mr Kerr’s response at the time was to point out that significant public policy changes were still to come, including major changes to the health service and welfare provision.
“Strategy has still got a considerable way to go,” he said. “Local authorities still need strong chief executives. The national picture is changing all the time and you do need someone in the middle of the organisation to pull it together.”
Cllr Carter admits Kent might not be chiefless for ever. “It may be in the future people will decide that a chief executive is appropriate – maybe the authority has lost direction and needs a visionary chief executive to put it back on track,” he said.
A dig through the LGC archives suggests such a merry go round of chief to chiefless and visionary to flounderer could be quicker than you’d think.
While North Tyneside Council managed 10 years, Northumberland CC and Bristol City Council only went three years before they decided there was a need for a chief executive after all.
From Ruth reports...
Ruth Keeling covers local government’s corporate core including management, finance, human resources, legal and communications.