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The government is sending mixed messages to councils about how it wants them to act as employers. ...
The government is sending mixed messages to councils about how it wants them to act as employers.

On the one hand, the government wants councils to have an innovative approach to people management, while on the other hand, they bind them with red tape. The latest example of bureaucratic knot-tying is to be found in the innocuous-sounding Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) Regulations 2001. Although these regulations came into force in November 2001, their practical impact is only just being realised.

The regulations lay down the procedures to be followed when local government staff are appointed or dismissed. The first principle they set out is that, with a few exceptions, councillors can no longer be involved in the appointment or dismissal of staff below deputy chief officer level, though they can still serve on panels hearing appeals against dismissal.

The main purpose is to prevent councillors influencing who gets a job with the council. But having done that, the regulations then lay down a Byzantine process for the hiring and firing of deputy chief officers and above.

The main thrust of the regulations is that where the matter is being dealt with by a committee, sub-committee or panel, an appointment cannot be offered until the proper officer - presumably the monitoring officer - has notified every executive member of the name of the person to be appointed or dismissed. Any member of the executive can then object and the appointment/dismissal cannot go ahead until the proper officer is happy the objection has no foundation.

In addition, where the head of paid service is being appointed or dismissed, the decision has to be confirmed by a full council meeting. In cases of the dismissal of the chief executive, this process has also to be endorsed by an independent person.

Apart from going against a key principle of good personnel management, that those involved in the appointment or dismissal process should be accountable for their actions, the regulations raise real practical difficulties - especially if a quick decision is needed to stop a potential chief executive looking elsewhere.

Some advice on how this wheeze works in reality would be welcome.

Tim Rothwell

Managing director, GWT Rothwell

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