The city manager is the model that would most empower chief executives.
The warning comes in The council manager model: enhancing political and managerial leadership, written by Professor Robin Hambleton on behalf of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, the Improvement and Development Agency and the Centre for Local Democracy.
The mayor/council manager model involves a chief executive who is 'given more authority than a typical UK chief executive to get on and manage the authority', says the report. But the way councils have ignored it is 'disappointing'.
Prof Hambleton writes: 'My own experience of working with politicians and managers in Phoenix, Arizona and Christchurch, New Zealand is that the council manager model can support bold and inventive managerial leadership.
'The space the model provides for managers to lead organisational change has had a very positive effect on staff morale right down the staff structure in these two authorities.'
The report recommends the model for small councils or for those with hung councils.
Prof Gerry Stoker said it was 'bonkers' that 90% of councils had considered the cabinet model, 1% an elected mayor and none had looked at the mayor/council manager option. It would work extremely well in district or rural councils where members had neither the time nor inclination to take a strong lead.
But it was unrealistic to think councillors in a big urban authority would yield ground to a council manager. Prof Stoker said: 'You have to accept that's what democracy is about. It would be a bit like the permanent secretary turning round and saying to the prime minister: 'Thanks for your input but we're not going to do that'.'
It would be unhealthy for any chief executive to try to sort out political feuding, he said.
SOLACE vice-president James Hehir said: 'In [my council] Ipswich [BC] it's a leader and cabinet model which works well for us. But it's important other options are available so that local authorities can choose which is the best for them.'
- The council manager model: enhancing political and managerial leadership is available at www.idea.gov.uk