Commentary on the LGC100 powerlist.
Watching the unveiling of the top 10 in the LGC100 at the list’s annual reception is always a little like taking in a fireworks display. As each of the top 10 influencers is revealed in reverse order by LGC editor Nick Golding there are ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ – and the occasional sharp intake of breath.
This year, our panel of expert judges, who had 164 years of local government knowledge between them, made some bold choices in their placement of people on the list.
The most contentious of these was, of course, the placement in the very top spot of a person who in fact does not work in local government: NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.
This was not intended as a glib comment from the panel about the perceived preferential treatment of the health service by the government. Having outmanoeuvred local government to ensure additional funding for social care would be spent on relieving hospital pressures, Mr Stevens demonstrated his influence over this most pressing of local government problems.
Further, the move towards new health and social care integration models such as accountable care systems will mean Mr Stevens will have a key role in the future of social care delivery. It isn’t outlandish to suggest that, given the scale of the social care challenge, Mr Stevens holds the keys to the kingdom.
The placement of ministers in the list also raised a few eyebrows at the BT Tower reception last night. In the previous year’s list, the top three positions in the list were all ministers: Sajid Javid, as communities secretary, in at number one, followed by business secretary Greg Clark in second place and Gavin Barwell, then housing minister in third.
What a difference a year makes. This time, Mr Javid reached only fifth place; Mr Clark, who narrowly avoided being reshuffled, was ranked at number 12; and the new housing minister Dominic Raab (admittedly only a few days into his post when the list was published) at number 29.
The top 10 this year contained just one minister. As Mr Golding pointed out in his column on the LGC100, short tenures of some ministers aside, this reflects “the reduced impact of ministers” given the instability of Theresa May’s government.
Council chief executives made up a cheering proportion of the top 10 – Barry Quirk of Kensington & Chelsea RBC; Jo Miller of Doncaster MBC (and the Society of Local Government Chief Executives & Senior Managers), Joanne Roney of Manchester City Council and Deborah Cadman of the West Midlands CA.
The prevalence of figures from the north and the Midlands may also please those hoping to see the devolution agenda begin to tip the economic scales away from London and the south-east.
Three of this year’s top 10 were female – compared with one last year – and there were more women overall in this year’s list. Though gender parity is clearly a long way off, the impact of more women – and more highly powered women at that – is starting to be felt.
The LGC100 reflects where the judges believe power actually lies, rather than where they would prefer it to be or where it is deserved. It is also designed to prompt debate about the sector – judging by some of the conversations that took place at the reception and on social media since, it has certainly done that.
Rachel Dalton, features editor