Chief executives have been warned that allowing themselves to be ‘unsung heroes’ has left them vulnerable to politicians who do not understand their role.
Speaking to the annual conference of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers in Cardiff, incoming president Kim Ryley said: “My sense is that we have been too content to be largely unsung and, in consequence, we are now vulnerable to the widespread lack of understanding of the value we can bring.”
He explained: “The relationship between local political and managerial roles needs to be regularly renegotiated and has sometimes been fraught over the past ten years.”
Mr Ryley, chief executive of Shropshire Council, said that for government at any level to be effective, it needed “to blend democratic legitimacy and authority with managerial competence and leadership of staff”.
But he told his colleagues that although councillors would depend on them to find ways of providing services with fewer resources “the legitimacy of our role, as senior managers, leaders of our staff, and advisors to our politicians is being challenged head-on by some in the Government and in the media.
“A range of interventions and warnings – around senior pay, so called ‘non-jobs’, and pensions shows insight into how to exploit symbolic issues and an intention to act quickly and decisively on them. “
He concluded that chief executives’ “ingenuity, the courage of our convictions, and the strength of the mutual support we provide to one another, will be key to our ability to flourish when the flood waters subside”.