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.