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AUDIO: Garlick - in his own words

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LGC talks to unitary Durham CC's new chief executive about his love of the role and the north-east.

AUDIO: George Garlick talking to LGC's political editor Dan Drillsma-Milgrom

He may not seek it, but George Garlick has one of the highest profiles of any chief executive currently running a council.

The new unitary Durham CC , of which 52-year-old Mr Garlick becomes the first chief executive this week, made great play of the stratospheric sums it was prepared to offer the right man. The position was advertised with a salary of£200,000, enough to make Mr Garlick one of the top earners in local government.

Such riches will inevitably bring attention and envy in equal measure. But the man who has spent his entire local government career in the north of England is not one to seek out the limelight, preferring instead to extol the virtues of being a chief executive, a job he describes as the best imaginable.

Durham will be the second time he has taken the helm at an all-new authority: “You’d have thought I would have learned,” he chuckles. Having played a key role in the disaggregation of Humberside CC 13 years ago, Mr Garlick moved further north to take the helm at the new Stockton-on-Tees BC which had been released from the abolished Cleveland CC at the same time. Stockton has known only Mr Garlick since then.

The virtues of unitary government is a topic on which Mr Garlick holds strong opinions. He is similarly passionate in his views on the north-east. Newcastle is the “most beautiful big city in England”, while Durham has “some of the most beautiful countryside in the country”. Despite this, he acknowledges his new beat has lagged behind the rest of the north-east in terms of economic performance, never mind the rest of the country.

Garlick: in his own words

George Garlick talking to LGC's political editor Dan Drillsma-Milgrom

I wouldn’t have taken the Durham job if it wasn’t a unitary council.

Trying to bring together an area’s priorities and service improvement in a holistic manner in a two-tier area is like pushing water uphill.

I don’t sit on the fence when it comes to reorganisation.

In the new high-performance, high-expectation world of local government where we are so central to developing communities and making people’s lives and life chances better, unitary councils seem to me to be absolutely screamingly obvious.

Local authorities are better at handling reorganisation than other public sector bodies.

Being pragmatic beasts we are used to handling whatever is thrown at us. The health service tends to close its door for a bit when it is reorganising. Councils can’t do that. Any reorganisation will be disruptive, but the game is worth the candle.

County Durham is the glue that holds the north-east together.

It has its own economy, but also supports both the Tyne & Wear and Tees Valley city regions. And in Durham city it provides the Oxford or Cambridge of the north-east.

The north-east becoming all-unitary brings enormous opportunities.

Having a 12-council grouping makes it pretty easy to get all of us around a table to get a coherent local government vision. It also helps us relate quite easily to health, police, fire and so forth.

If you’d told me six months before the vote that the north-east regional assembly would be rejected, I’d have been very surprised.

But the way the campaign went meant you could see it wasn’t going to come through from about two weeks before.

Any economic downturn will slow down the regeneration of the north-east.

We have got a lot of housing-based regeneration taking place. There is a lot of poor inner-urban housing in the north-east and a lot of schemes to replace that with modern settlement patterns that are more acceptable. Any downturn is going to hit that.

We should be okay as long as the downturn doesn’t last too long.

Our big generators of wealth are large, long-cycle industrial complexes petrochemicals, steel, energy production and we are still getting some big investments.

If the credit crunch doesn’t last more than a year or two then it won’t impact on that big global cycle. Otherwise one starts to worry.

With directly elected mayors it’s a question of horses for courses.

It’s easier to see them working in places with a single community focus, as they are in Middlesbrough or Hartlepool. The same push hasn’t come through in Stockton-on-Tees as we have five or six major settlements.

The principle of the comprehensive area assessment is great, but it is going to produce some oddities and perverse results in the early days.

Certain agencies are measured on out-turns which are positive for them but negative for us. So the police might have a performance framework that tells them to make more interventions for young people while we as a community might want less.

The local area agreement (LAA) negotiations were a positive and valuable process.

We have a positive relationship with the Government Office for the North East and they provided some very strong support.

But LAAs won’t change the way high-performing authorities operate.

They very much live and die by achieving the targets they set themselves and from those targets deriving from well-researched community priorities. LAAs are just a way of giving a more simplified interface for government into that performance management structure.

I can’t imagine a better job than being the chief executive of a local authority.

It really is so much fun. The variety you get, the people you meet, the capacity to have a positive impact on people’s lives. It really is a wonderful thing.

If I had one wish for one piece of legislation it would be to put a statutory duty on employers to give people adequate time to be local councillors.

You are giving up so many opportunities in life to become an effective councillor and you are not rewarded adequately for doing that.

Chief executives shouldn’t be so defensive about how much they are paid.

We are public servants and there is no reason whatsoever why our pay levels shouldn’t be known. When I talk to people in the pub and they josh you about it, I don’t think they are seriously upset as long as they think the council is doing a good job.

My dad was head warden of the Peak District National Park.

As he worked in conservation we got to wander around a lot of different, very nice places. He ended up working for the Dartington Hall Trust in Devon. As an employee’s child, I got to go to this rather interesting progressive school [Dartington Hall School a progressive co-educational boarding school which kept formal classroom activities to a minimum and involved children in running the estate].

That has stayed with me throughout my life.

I studied philosophy at Hull University.

It’s a great vocational subject and I’d recommend it to anybody.

Having a legal background has been a huge positive for me.

I went to law school and was a local government lawyer for a few years before getting into policy. A legal background gives you an opportunity to experience every field of and function of local government. And it gives you a certain mental rigour which goes with the philosophy background in terms of analysing things and making decisions.

I’ve had incredibly strong formative influences.

When I was at Humberside CC I ceased to be a lawyer and became assistant chief executive to a man called John Parkes. He was an amazingly intelligent man; very wise and very public-duty orientated. That was a marvellous two years. It opened my eyes to what councils can do.

The thing in Stockton I am most proud of is the new North Shore footbridge.

I can remember the first meeting when we finagled it in as a little add-on to the regeneration development along the river. It is symbolic as it joins two parts of Durham University together.

My local government low point would be the depths of early Nineties’ recession.

Capital investment dried up, money was tight and we were being compelled to open things up to markets which were counterproductive and in some cases didn’t exist. I’m very glad we’ve come out of that.

AUDIO:Mr Garlick talking to LGC's political editor Dan Drillsma-Milgrom

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