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Rugby trials Pickles' 'leader and chief' idea

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The communities and local government secretary’s idea of a leader-chief executive has already been put into practice, LGC has learnt.

Rugby DC has been road-testing the proposal - put forward by Eric Pickles at this week’s Local Government Association (LGA) conference - since chief executive Simon Warren moved to Wolverhampton City Council in March.

Leader Craig Humphrey (Con) has taken on the outward-facing, reputational parts of the chief executive’s role, with the council’s directors and heads of service taken more responsibility for day-to-day management.

The system is being piloted until September and officers are set to advise councillors on making the arrangement permanent.

Ian Davis, one of Rugby’s two deputy chief executives, said: “The report will say that it is working. We need to set down clearly some things like the job description so there is not that much of managing officers.”

A remuneration panel has also been established to decide on a pay package for Cllr Humphrey that will be somewhere between a chief executive’s salary and the £12,000 he currently receives as leader of the council.

Mr Davis said: “It is interesting that Mr Pickles said he didn’t see why councils would need a chief executive and a leader doing the same job. We think what we are doing is what Pickles said.”

The council had come up with the plan after Mr Warren’s departure because councillors and officers did not feel that they could afford to recruit and pay a new chief executive, or that they necessarily needed someone in the role. Mr Davis added: “That is no reflection on Mr Warren, who was very well respected.”

Other local government figures have questioned whether Mr Pickles’ proposal could work, with one senior official describing it as “bonkers”.

Chief executives attending the LGA conference also suggested that not all council leaders would have the technical skills or experience of running a complex organisation responsible for sensitive issues such as social care.

Mr Davis said it would be “easy to say that it its small town politics” and admitted that it might be different for a big city council. “I can only say what works for Rugby,” he said, adding: “From what Eric Pickles said, we might be the first but we won’t be the last. He was very prescriptive.”

Meanwhile, Unison has attacked Mr Pickles’ cliam that chief executive is a “non-job” in local government. General Secretary Dave Prentis, said: “The tale of the non-job is a myth. Eric Pickles should look a little closer at the valuable work people in local councils do, and at the millions wasted on expensive private consultants, who add little value.

“A closer look at so-called non-jobs shows the value they bring local communities. Councils work together with local businesses and other agencies such as the police and fire brigades to fund some posts, particularly for young people.”

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