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Single tier still wary of joint chiefs

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London boroughs needing chief executives appear to be rejecting the idea of sharing with other authorities, despite the example of Camden and Islington LBCs and the warnings of communities secretary Eric Pickles.

Islington and Camden announced their plans to share a chief after Islington’s John Foster retires in May. Despite this, those London boroughs with vacancies - Waltham Forest, Newham, Hounslow and Sutton LBCs - have all rejected the option of a shared chief.

Michael Frater, the interim chief at Hounslow, said he was sceptical the model could be transferred from districts and boroughs, where it has proved popular, to “all-purpose councils” where a single department could employ more people than a whole district.

Metropolitan chief executives could expect to work a 60- or 70-hour week, Mr Frater said. His own experience of managing both Walsall MBC and Telford & Wrekin Council in 2002 was a 90-hour working week and by the end of the six-month interim arrangement he was “physically ill”, he said.

“The idea that you can run two councils is nonsense, in my opinion. I’ve done it and it nearly killed me,” he said. “I don’t think Mr Pickles has thought it through.”

Hounslow had been in serious talks to share a chief with the local primary care trust, until the health body’s abolition was announced in July, in the hope that it would lead to integrated and better services for the area. Sharing a chief with another council was not discussed.

Waltham Forest LBC, who promoted acting chief Martin Esom on Wednesday, also did not consider sharing. Leader Chris Robbins (Lab) said: “I wouldn’t want our priorities to be altered at this stage of the game by a chief executive from another authority.”

Newham LBC mayor Sir Robin Wales said his council would have its own chief executive, despite an intervention from Mr Pickles in July, when he said that one was not needed.

Such sentiments are unlikely to impress Mr Pickles, who in last weekend’s The Sunday Times claimed chief executives would only survive if they managed more than one organisation.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Roger

    Sounds like none of these chiefs want to come out and state exactly why it is so difficult to manager more than one council at a time. Might I suggest that the 800lb gorilla in this particular room is that group called the elected members.
    Somebody recently suggested to me that the major difference between a CX running two councils and a CX running a commercial company of the equivalent size, was that the commercial company didn’t have two boards and two sets of shareholders.
    At some point a council that is sharing their CX, is going to be faced with the problem of what to do when that CX falls out with one of the council leaders. Leader A is happy with him or her, but leader B isn’t. Who foots the bill for the severance package? Who foots the bill for the recruitment process? Why should council A pay when it's council B that has the problem? If council A wishes to retain the services of the CX, what will his pay be for now only running one council?
    As the financial cupboard becomes even barer, will council B have to accept that it will be far cheaper for the controlling group to sack the leader than the CX?

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