Posted by:22 July, 2011
In the past seven working days there have been no fewer than ten job announcements at senior level, offering a snapshot of the emerging trends for shared posts and first time chief appointments.
In fact, such is the degree of change that I resorted to drawing up a tally:
- Two departures
- Two directors promoted to chief executive
- Two cases of the chief post being deleted and responsibilities instead being divided among directors
- Four stories about shared posts between different councils - one appointment, and three situations where talks to establish shared chiefs ended in collapse
LGID’s Rob Whiteman and Tower Hamlets’ Kevan Collins both announced they are to leave local government, Rob to become chief executive of the UK Border Agency and Kevan to become chief executive of newly created quango the Education Endowment Foundation.
Each illustrates a trend. Quite apart from leaving the race to replace John Ransford as LGA chief wide open, Rob is the latest in a string of highly respected local government leaders to take up a government role - a trend that pays tribute to the quality of the sector’s senior managers. Kevan, also taking up a central post, becomes the second chief to leave Tower Hamlets in as many years, giving rise to an important debate about longevity.
Meanwhile, Tony Goodwin at Tamworth BC and Paul Kirby at Broadland DC were both promoted to chief executive, becoming the lastest in a growing trend for internal promotions and first time chief executives. At Broadland the move paves the way to reduce the number of directorate posts from three to two.
This trend is clearly illustrated by LGC’s Salary Tracker research over the past six months, which has found that of the 15 chief executives appointed between January and June, 60% were first time chiefs, of which 78% were internal promotions.
This is a significant shift from recent years when observation (we were not collecting specific figures) suggests that most chief roles where filled by experienced chiefs - possibly boosted by the creation of the latest round of unitiaries and resultant surfeit of chiefs and probably contributing to a degree of salary inflation.
Increased opportunity for talented directors to move upwards is a positive step and will help to ensure that the best people are not lost from the sector because of a lack of upward opportuities. However, the trend must also be viewed through the lens of the cost cuts that councils are needing to make. Never before has experience been more valuable, and those councils considering cost over and above the complex needs of their organisation could be making a false economy. The sector as a whole requires a healthy mix of experience and new perspectives.
In the past year, there has been a significant focus on sharing chief and director posts across more than one authority. This week had its fair share, with Hammersmith & Fulham LBC’s Andrew Christie becoming the first ever director of children’s services to cover not two but three councils as part of the so called tri-borough partnership between Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Kensignton & Chelsea.
But while the London boroughs were pushing ahead, elsewhere it was a story of collapse rather than progress. Rochdale MBC announced a surprise change of mind over shared management with Oldham MBC on Tuesday morning while Great Yarmouth BC and South Norfolk Council also ended their year-long negotiations. Plans for a shared chief executive between Shepway DC and Dover DC fell apart after councillors reached deadlock having each backed their own chief executive for the role.
The trend goes to show how complex and testing the road to partnership can be. And it perhaps raises questions about whether the potential gains are worth the upheaval. While shared chiefs and directors are undoubtedly a PR win, the real savings are likley to be achieved elsewhere.
Finally, two councils this week announced that they would not replace their departing chiefs, instead chosing the join the trend for ‘co-managing directors’ by sharing out responsibilities beween remaining directors. At West Lancashire BC Kim Webber and Gill Rowe will take up the mantel from 1 November when Bill Taylor takes voluntary retirement. At Forest of Dean DC strategic directors Sue Pangbourne and Peter Hibberd, who have been sharing the chief exec’s workload on an interim basis since December 2009, will permanently share the role.
These cases add to existing situtations reported in LGC over the couple of years. While some have broken down over time, others seem to be successful. Instinctively, sharing a leadership function seems counter-intuitive. But if made to work, the ‘double head’ model could have significant implications for flexible working and family-friendly working across local government - after all, if the chief executive position can be completed on something approaching a job share basis, presumably most other roles can too.