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ALACE FIGHTS BACK IN WELSH DISMISSALS ROW

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By Mark Smulian ...
By Mark Smulian

A bid by the Welsh Assembly government to erode protection for chief executives from unfair sackings has sparked a furious row with the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives.

ALACE is incensed that it was not even consulted about the proposals - and discovered them only by chance.

It condemned them as 'thoroughly reprehensible [and] designed to thwart the clear intention of the primary legislation'.

The dispute turns on proposals by the assembly to speed up the dismissal of chief executives.

Suggested reforms include removal of the legal protection which prevents councillors from sacking chief executives without an inquiry by an independent person.

The assembly recommends chief executives sign away this right in return for a higher salary. It also proposes distinguishing attempted sackings based on disciplinary grounds from those based on capability grounds, and dispensing with an independent person in the latter.

ALACE honorary secretary Alastair Robertson said his organisation's exclusion was 'inexcusable'.

The involvement of the independent person is intended to prevent sackings arising from personal animosity or political interference, he added.

In an angry letter to the assembly, ALACE warned the protection is there to allow chief executives to perform conscientiously 'without fear of threat from politicians who might find [them] an inconvenient impediment to the way they wish to run the authority'.

It warns that creating a division between 'capability' and 'disciplinary' cases would allow councils to invent allegations about a chief executive's capability, where the real issue was personal or political.

Repeated references appear in the consultation document to the problems faced by one unnamed Welsh council when it removed its chief executive.

The only relevant case is the sacking of David Foster by Vale of Glamorgan Council four years ago (LGC, 21 July 2000), after he was found guilty of 36 counts of misconduct by an inquiry.

That protracted dispute 'led to considerable concern as to the efficiency and balance of the current provisions,' the consultation states.

Mr Robertson said: 'It is a well established principle that new law based on individual instances is invariably bad law.'

An assembly spokeswoman said finance, local government and public services minister Sue Essex regretted the oversight in not involving ALACE.

Vale of Glamorgan's problems had been 'a factor in the deliberation' about extending protection to monitoring and finance officers in Wales.

Mark.smulian@emap.com

The proposals - and ALACE's response to them

-- Separate procedures for disciplinary and capability cases - ditching the independent person in the latter. ALACE says the wide definition of capability makes it 'as much independent person territory as disciplinary cases'.

-- Speed up the process. ALACE says chief executives want a swift resolution and

it is often employers who slow things down. However, most cases are settled withina satisfactory timescale.

-- Encourage chief executives to opt out of protection in return for higher pay. ALACE warns the assembly has 'lost sight' of the need to restrain maverick politicians - such practice would be in the 'backwaters of local government'.

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