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Tories must dump Heseltine plan to scrap top officer...
Tories must dump Heseltine plan to scrap top officer

Lord Heseltine's heretical suggestion that Britain's cities would be better off without chief executives marks the return to local government of one of its most reforming secretaries of state. But is this reform sensible?

In government Michael Heseltine pushed councils to break out of the straitjacket of the old committee system and consider radical alternatives for running their affairs, including directly elected mayors.

Now he has returned more than two decades after his first spell overseeing local government to lead David Cameron's cities task force as part of the Tory leader's policy review.

In his first speech to a Conservative conference since they lost power, Lord Heseltine has highlighted city chief executives' high salaries, and the relatively small salaries paid to leaders, and asked why 'two chief executives' are needed.

His description of one being poorly paid but accountable and the other 'extremely well paid and enjoying a

tenure far removed from public accountability' is a parody of the truth.

He betrays little understanding of the transformation local government has undergone since he left government, the impact that has had on our cities' fortunes, and the central role played by chief executives in that success.

And the merest glance at a few issues of LGC explodes the myth that modern chief executives enjoy anything approaching tenure. Comprehensive performance assessment blew away the last defences of a few deficient chiefs, while everything from weak performance to political whim can unseat the top officer.

In the apparent absence of fresher blood capable of leading the cities review for Mr Cameron, the

return of the heavy-hitting Lord Heseltine to the local government ring promises to be an entertaining spectacle - particularly if he and minister David Miliband start trading blows. But grandstanding with ill-conceived notions which would do great harm to great cities is not the way to drive reform.

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