Who needs a Chief Executive anyway?


By the sea

Here at WLLG towers we are a big fan of local news and so it was with interest when a FOB (friend of the blog) sent us this story from the seaside town of Hastings:

COUNCIL leader Jeremy Birch has been slammed for his management shake-up plan which axes the chief executive and appears to give him more power.

Under the proposal, jointly written with deputy council leader Jay Kramer and published this week, the senior management team at Hastings Borough Council (HBC) will be cut from 15 officers to 10 with a team of three directors taking over the chief executive role.

The story has three very interesting points within it:

1)    Despite the opposition parties claiming that the abolition of the Chief Executive would lead to more responsibility for the leader of the council, this was rejected by the leader himself who claimed that:

There would be little change from current practices

This is a curious position to take. Five of the top fifteen managers in the organisation are going and the leader of the council reckons it will make no difference to his role or the role of his senior staff. Indeed, the top management team is being reduced from four to three with abolition of the Chief Executive.

Does the leader of the council believe that the Chief Executive was doing no work? Does he believe that there is capacity within the top team to take on extra work?

Other authorities have flirted with this plan as well but I really wonder whether there will be true leadership if it doesn’t come from a Chief Executive or a Leader of the council taking a bigger role.

By stating that there will be no greater role for the Leader of the Council it sounds like Mr Birch has made the job of his three directors even harder.

2)    Mr WLLG is a private sector worker and he thinks it is ‘mental’ that an organisation looking to deal with

50 per cent less Government money

would be reducing their management first before they have put through the changes to make the organisation work in a totally different way.

Local Government is, in many cases, taking a very different route by reducing the management and then hoping that the strategic direction will be found by the front line staff remaining. This is reflective in part of a disdain for ‘management’ and in part because many services within local government are very much practitioner led.

I wonder if this is a recipe for success?

3)    The local Conservative MP (a lady by the name of Amber Rudd) described this as:

A very worrying and unwelcome development.

She continued:

This represents him (the council leader Jeremy Birch) taking on much more of an executive role. If Jeremy wants to be an elected mayor he needs to put this to the people of Hastings, and in the past this idea of an elected mayor has been rejected. He cannot take on this role via the back door. I would strongly oppose this proposal and urge councillors to think very carefully about governance issues of the council when they vote on this.

A stark reminder if ever one was needed that all politics in local. Eric Pickles and co have been very positive about council leaders taking on much of the role of the chief executive and have been openly scathing about the role of the chief executive in a local authority. Yet when it comes to local politics the local MP sees it as a power grab.

Inconsistent? Yes. Surprising? Not at all. Indeed, as true localists we even welcome the fact an MP can differ from the party line.

Hastings Borough Council was (according to the cuts database) one of the authorities to face the ‘maximum’ 8.9% year on year cut to their budget so it is not surprising that they are considering this sort of radical response. Indeed, it is possible that they are also making a 1/3rd cut to all staff and not just their senior management. Nonetheless, I do fear that this (especially removing the Chief Executive) is a decision that will need to be reversed in future years.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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4 Comments on “Who needs a Chief Executive anyway?”

  1. DSO Says:

    “I do fear that this (especially removing the Chief Executive) is a decision that will need to be reversed in future years.” I agree completely. The proposals about not just elected mayors but executive mayors are a terrifying concentration of power in one individual, and (particularly for officers) a worrying loss of the distinction between political and organisational leadership. In areas with an executive mayor, the Head of Paid Service would also be the Leader.

  2. Headhunter Says:

    I have been involved in the past in unwinding situations where the “no CE” was tried before. It’s not pretty.

    As a true localist I wouldn’t like to say that it is always wrong. Where there is a strong, respected leader with significant operational and non-exec experience, a very change-adept organisation, flexible resources and with corporate working baked-in to the culture it might just work. Until any of those preconditions changes.

    People interested in this topic should be following the dilemmas of the “secret chief executive” in LGC.

  3. as above Says:

    Jeremy has as much integrity as any of the Ashcroft parachutists so I am quite happy with the idea. Boris worked out quite well so why should not an elected mayor work in Hastings. After all we now live in the Age Of Social Brutalism so why not give it a try?


  4. [...] In a previous post, from a couple of months ago, I likened the roll of the chief executive to a pilot, with members as air traffic control (kind of).  The bods at We Love Local Government showed they felt just as strongly when last week they posted ‘Who needs a Chief Executive anyway?’ [...]


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