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It is not a question of lawyers versus treasurers. 'That is a dead parrot debate - it goes back to the 1970s and 19...
It is not a question of lawyers versus treasurers. 'That is a dead parrot debate - it goes back to the 1970s and 1980s when it was an issue,' says Richard Mellor, head of legal services at Richmond upon Thames LBC.

He says that in the past 'the less scrupulous' treasurers would sometimes warn the council it had to cut millions from the budget, only to pull off a wonderful, and imaginary, bit of housekeeping to save the day.

'There was a little bit of image management and information management in that,' he says. 'That might have been the case in the 1980s when resources were especially tight. But those who depend on control to manage, in whatever way, will have to move on.

'If anything, career options for lawyers in local government have broadened significantly. Look at Michael Bichard [permanent secretary] at the Department for Education and Employment - he started out as a lawyer at Lambeth LBC. And equally there are transfers to the private sector, all sorts of different opportunities.

'We are actually very versatile creatures, ones who have to pick up very different skills. We have to understand information technology, finance, we have to be pretty good with people, we have to able to present ideas and communicate. The extra bit is leadership.'

In any event, the majority of chief executives are still lawyers, he says. There has been a prevalence of accountants over lawyers in the UK, particularly compared with the US, and the greater number of finance officers reaching the top may be a reflection of that trend. The trend was also exaggerated in London, where the high turnover in chief executive posts threw up people with a broad range backgrounds.

But Mr Mellor agrees with Rodney Brooke that the government-sponsored debate about alternatives to the committee system casts doubt on the future of chief executives.

'Does the debate mean the end of the chief executive? In the Greater London Authority, what would be the role of the head of the paid service? Will it be appropriate for the post to be called a chief executive or will that person be a clerk to the authority?

'Mr Brooke asks whether ACSeS is 'merely a vehicle for exchange of professional information'. It is one function of the association but not a 'mere' function. It is very important in best value and in building networks, he says.'

Mr Mellor objects to the description of ACSeS as one 'struggling to understand best value' and believes it helped persuade the government to kick the extension of CCT for white-collar services into touch.

He agrees that the association was discreet about these achievements and its continuing influence on the regimes for best value, democratic experimentation and new ethical checks. 'There is not a lot to be said for sticking out controversial arguments in the journals.'

He rejects Mr Brooke's suggestion that lawyers are only now helping councils to use the law creatively rather than obstructing new schemes. He says there was a division among lawyers and administrators over whether they wanted to take on a monitoring or policy-related job but many still managed to combine the two functions.

He says the prospect of an exodus into the better-paid private sector is 'pure hype' and that many challenges, from elected mayors to the private finance initiative, will keep local government lawyers and administrators happily occupied for years to come.

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