Devolution discussions and deals should be used as a way to stop central government from treating local authority chiefs and councils like children, according to the president of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers.
Mark Rogers, who is also Birmingham City Council’s chief executive, told delegates at the Solace Summit in Bournemouth he wanted chief executives to “negotiate a modus operandi that’s different with government” and one where they are viewed as “equals”.
“I’m fed up of being treated like a child when the organisation I work for, the partners we engage with, and the communities we serve are not children,” he said. “They are really important ingredients in the localities we are in. It’s important government understands that.
“It’s important we enter into a robust conversation with government; that we should be talking on a level playing field about things that really matter to them and us in our communities, and that together we will get a better understanding of policy and the delivery between us than we presently get when we are negotiating in a hierarchal relationship.”
Speaking after Mr Rogers, former Labour education and home secretary Charles Clarke, who is also a former Hackney LBC councillor, said in his experience he had heard both sides talk badly about each other.
“There is a culture of distrust [between central and local government] which is absolutely essential to solve,” said Mr Clarke.
Meanwhile, following the conclusion of the Labour and Conservative party conferences, Mr Rogers said national politics was “moving to the left and to the right” in a way that had not been seen for “quite a while”.
He urged chief executives to watch the national picture closely and think about what that would mean not only in terms of potential policies from both parties but the impact it might have on elected members on their councils, especially as he was already sensing “stirrings” in Birmingham.
Meanwhile, Mr Rogers urged chief executives to be “useful” and said Solace was doing that by becoming more vocal in the way it makes representations to government, such as sending a submission ahead of the spending review, and increasing its policy work.
He thought chief executives should “press home” their “unique selling point” which is that they are not political but operate in a political environment.
With Solace adopting a new code of ethics Mr Rogers said reasserting “values-based leadership” was important.
“We are a leadership organisation and we will only be a great leadership organisation if what we do on a day-to-day basis is underpinned by great values,” he said.