Posted by:9 February, 2012
I stood between two Conservative leaders of county councils last week, one of whom had got rid of the post of chief executive, the other who said they would never do so.
“What would you miss if your chief executive were to disappear tomorrow,” the former asked.
“That challenge you get from an independent person,” the latter replied.
The exchange reinforced my long-held opinion that councils are best run when there is a mature and honest relationship between political and managerial leaders. Where a chief executive understands that the vision and strategy for a council is set by elected members but is trusted to implement that vision whilst also providing advice and, where necessary, challenge.
The cases we present over the next few pages look at instances where councils have chosen to do away with that role. While the case of Bristol certainly appears to have been a case of a disastrous decision quickly reversed, the case of North Tyneside is possibly more instructive.
There, the chief-less model endured for a full decade. However, as the interviews with the officers and members involved at the time reveal, a lot of this was down to the particular blend of qualities of the individuals involved. And when the governance system changed to one with an elected mayor, the case for having a chief executive became more, not less, compelling.
Any council leader weighing up the short-term political benefits of doing away with their chief executive should read on, and think twice.
From Civic Regalia
LGC’s political editor Dan Drillsma-Milgrom blogs on all aspects of town hall life