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While the BBC has been mired in a row over disparities in pay between its male and female stars, this week has seen a glimmer of good news on the gender equality front in local government.
Of the four new mayoral combined authority chief executives appointed to date, the highest paid will be a woman. Deborah Cadman, who will join the West Midlands CA from Suffolk CC in September, will earn £7,500 more a year than the next highest paid, Eamonn Boylan in Greater Manchester, who gets £180,000.
As LGC reports this week, West Midlands CA exceeded its previously agreed salary cap of between £160,000 and £180,000 to appoint Ms Cadman. Let’s take a moment to celebrate a top appointment of a woman who knows her worth and is (presumably) not afraid to ask for it.
But before we get too carried away, we must remember that Ms Cadman is the only woman so far appointed to one of these six major new roles (two combined authorities have not yet made permanent appointments) and she joins an extremely male dominated world. As LGC has previously reported, not only are there more Andys in mayoral roles than women, the mayoral cabinets, drawn as they must be from the leaders of the member councils, are almost exclusively male. This situation is even worse that the findings of recent research from the Fawcett Society that just 17% of council leaders are women.
In addition, while the core populations served by West Midlands and Greater Manchester CAs are roughly similar at around 2.8 million, if you take into account the seven districts and three unitaries which are non-constituent members of West Midlands CA, Ms Cadman will serve a population almost a third larger than Mr Boylan. Although these members do not have full voting rights, it’s not hard to imagine their inclusion in the bodies’ plans will not create more work.
Less than three months on from the mayoral elections, the exact nature of these new combined authority chief executive roles is still emerging. Unlike, councils combined authorities are not so far directly responsible for the delivery of services and as a result have relatively small operational budgets. Their priorities will be delivering the strategic projects that will grow and revitalise their areas.
Perhaps the closest comparison with an existing role might be the head of paid service at the Greater London Authority, a position held for almost 10 years by Jeff Jacobs.
In an interview with LGC, published last week, Mr Jacobs says he prefers not to use the term chief executive “because the mayor’s really the chief executive”.
The former civil servant says he sees himself in the same way as when he worked for central government “facilitative, a bit more behind the scenes, giving advice and securing delivery of the mayor’s priorities.”
One of the major differences between Mr Jacobs’ role and that of the mayoral combined authority chief executives is the political arrangements. While the London mayor gets to choose his deputies freely, the new generation of mayors must select theirs from among the leaders of the councils who form the combined authority. These leaders also automatically form the mayor’s cabinet, a situation that has left Conservative Tees Valley CA mayor Ben Houchen with an entirely Labour cabinet. Even where all politicians involved are from the same party, personalities and local politics mean things do not always run smoothly, as has been seen in the Liverpool City Region CA in recent weeks.
Mr Jacobs says this dynamic could mean combined authority chief executives have “more of a role” making the political leadership work. “The person in my position in a combined authority is clearly going to have to worry about the other people democratically elected in the cabinet and who have got some control over strategies in a way that’s not so much of an issue here.”
The combined authority model, as pioneered in Greater Manchester, is designed to require consensus. Ms Cadman, who is Birmingham born, is highly respected in the sector and has a track record of developing strong partnership working across the tiers of local government as well as the wider public sector in Suffolk. It’s not hard to see why the West Midlands CA was prepared to pay more than it expected.