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COMMENT - CHIEF EXECS' RIGHTS UNDER THREAT

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Chief executives can never be complacent about their protection from political whim. ...
Chief executives can never be complacent about their protection from political whim.

The latest example of the erosion of rights for council bosses comes from the Welsh Assembly.

The assembly has strung together a set of proposals to speed up the dismissal of chief executives. The proposals are largely a response to the Vale of Glamorgan Council case, which lasted for around a year. The results of its consultation - which excluded the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives - are disquieting.

For example, the assembly proposes a separation of capability and disciplinary issues, arguing that the latter does not require an independent person.

But given the subjectivity of judging capability, and the irrationality politicians are capable of, an independent person can be no less vital where capability is in question.

The assembly also suggests an opt-out system whereby chief executives could effectively sell their statutory protection in return for a higher salary.

This is a terrible idea. The nature of the job is to work in a political climate that can turn on its head at any given time. Such reversals are usually associated with elections, but can come at any time, triggered by a bad inspection report or simply the inexplicable tides of opinion within the council chamber.

Few other senior managers in the public sector deal with this degree of insecurity - the analogies are to be found elsewhere, in the world of football and the business boardroom.

Nor are only personal travails at stake. As ALACE points out in an angry letter to the assembly, chief executives must be able to do their job without fearing 'politicians who might find conscientious chief executives an impediment to the way they wish to run the authority'.

To remove this protection would encourage just the kind of poor governance local government is desperately trying to leave behind.

Moreover, the assembly is responding to just one case, which is four years old. But there will always be rogue cases where a member of staff fights to the death. To negate the core legislation in order to prevent these rare cases would be entirely counterproductive.

ALACE, which came across the proposals by chance, is fuming that it was not consulted, and the results of omitting it are indeed alarming.

However, the assembly's ideas are so far out of touch with the reality of modern local government, it seems unlikely they will ever see the light of day.

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