Posted tagged ‘chief executive’

Who needs a Chief Executive anyway?

November 14, 2011

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?


Do Not Enter

October 17, 2011

Here be dragons (or cranky post room guys)

My council building is huge and my desk very small and I tend to follow a fairly well worn path from the front door to my desk and back.

This means that there are plenty of places in the council where I have never been. It was therefore quite a shock when I found myself invited into our IT department this week. The IT department is usually locked and entrance is on a strict ‘invite only’ basis so I actually had a strange ripple of excitement as I was invited to enter and was led through the doors by the slightly pasty IT manager.

Not only is the IT department harder to get into than the local nightclub but the lights and baubles are way more exciting. Above a couple of the desks were big monitors with a variety of crazy graphs and lines that seemed to move almost of their own volition. There was a spattering of high powered laptops (I wondered where they went) and some people earnestly working on some programmes that I had never seen and looked very complicated.

And much like the nightclub at the end of the largest of the offices was the IT equivalent of the VIP area; the ‘server room’. Even with my privileged access I certainly wasn’t allowed in there (and rightly so; who knows what I might have ended up doing!).

As I wondered back to my desk (taking the same route as ever) it got me wondering what are the other secret rooms in the council? Below are my top five:


Chief personality traits

October 14, 2011

You need to be tough to be at the top

Chief execs are few in number, and it appears that they could be something of an endangered species.  As the need to balance the books grows ever more urgent and as more leaders and Mayors start imagining themselves as Executive Mayors, councils up and down the country could begin to see the officer at the top become a group of officers slightly below the top.  Perhaps they will see their chief presiding over two or even more local authorities, or maybe they’ll simply ride off into the sunset as teams and services become more localised and self sufficient.

This and more was considered recently by the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, also known as SOLACE, which is the representative body for senior, strategic managers in UK Local Authorities and the wider public sector.  They released an excellent document which explains, from their perspective, the importance of the role and the huge variety of skills and knowledge which this one person needs to have.  We really recommend you take a look; it’s pretty short and is as brilliantly plain English as it gets.

Whilst we at WLLG towers generally happen to agree with them, today is not a day when we are going to explain why (more to come soon though).  Instead we thought we’d be a touch more whimsical about things and go through some of the characteristics of chief executives which we have collectively encountered over the years.  Some characteristics are held by more than one person, and some people hold a combination of these which is unique to them.  The best chief execs we have seen have a little of all of them, and know exactly how to use each to their council’s ultimate advantage.

The yes man or woman

Local government is a complex place for those at the top.  Demands are placed on them from every angle imaginable: their own directors and senior managers all feel their own services are vital and above cuts (or should at least be insulated as far as possible), local residents waste no time telling them all of the things they think are being done wrong, politicians and their Leader are pulling them from pillar to post to support their political plans and goals all whilst Eric Pickles and much of the media tells the world that they are superfluous and are being paid too much. (more…)

Chatting up the Chief Exec

October 7, 2011

Which one of these gives me a trapdoor?

Picture the scene; it’s 8am and you’ve been a good girl, got out of bed super early and headed to the office to get a head start on the day. Whilst clutching your corrugated paper cup of over-priced but crucial coffee you wonder aimlessly through the front door of the civic centre only to bump into the Chief Executive waiting for the lift.

I know him a little so say hi and get the following response:

So Mrs WLLG, did you enjoy the recent staff away day?

(he uses my real name as this blog is anonymous and I doubt he even knows it exists; not really a blog type if you get my drift)

In a normal circumstance, I would have come up with a diplomatic but truthful answer starting with the positives and then if feeling really brave suggesting an area that could be improved; (or at least that’s what I tell myself).

But it’s 8am and that corrugated coffee is still sitting there scolding hot and undrunk in my hands so I say:

‘Well, I don’t think those are the sort of things you’re meant to enjoy’

‘Oh’, he says; ‘how do you mean?’

My coffee cup is screaming at me; ‘back track, BACK track’ but the coffee is still safely ensconced so I blunder on:

‘Well, the whole meeting was about cuts and savings so it’s never going to be cheery is it (doing well); plus, it’s hard to be strategic when all we have is a 15 minute round table discussion about strategic issues and then the rest is presentations (oops!)’

‘But the finance presentation was really good’ (I say desperately trying to win back a situation)

The Chief Exec isn’t the sort of guy who gets flustered and he says ‘thanks for the feedback’ and wishes me a good day.

I take a swig of coffee…

Now don’t get me wrong; I didn’t say anything out of turn as such; it’s just that the way I said it and the fact that I did it whilst standing in a lift at 8am in the morning when the Chief was probably just trying to be friendly meant that it was probably a little unwise.

That evening, when I had recovered, I dropped an e-mail to my WLLG colleagues and asked for any examples that they had of things they shouldn’t have said to their Chief Exec. I think it’s possible some of the following are made up:


Ten ways to tell that your local authority is facing a severe budget crisis

August 5, 2011

Life's a beach in Local Government

These are tough times for Local Government and it is about to get harder as the cuts really start to bite. Today we present our guide for how to tell if your authority is taking it harder than most.

1)      Your Chief Executive Disappears

Suddenly, your effervescent and inspirational leader is locked in his office on the first floor only coming out for occasional photo shoots with the leader. His appearances in the canteen are rarer than the appearance of well cooked food.

2)      Your Chief Executive is everywhere

Stress treats everyone differently and suddenly your Chief Executive is at every meeting, reassuring, sharing your pain and generally getting everyone ready for what she describes as ‘a very tough stretch.’

3)      Trade Union Officials are never separated from their Job Evaluation manuals

Every restructure brings a fight over job grading and when there’s a fight over job grading theUnion are called in to try and write a new JD that fixes the problem. At the moment the Union guys are dealing with so many restructures they might as well be working in HR!

4)      The communications talk more about leaving than staying

Advertising on council notice boards and in the canteen is all about Employee Assistance Schemes, CV writing workshops and the offer of advice about how to plan your retirement.

5)      Home working is considered part of your ‘employee duty’ rather than a part of the work life balance

Suddenly reducing the number of desks in the local authority is a necessity and council managers will do everything they can to get their staff to work out of the office as often as possible. It’s not new but 70% occupancy targets are normal rather than revolutionary now.

6)      The contracts for your consultants get shorter and shorter

In a time of massive budget cuts the council can’t bring itself to move away from bringing in consultants (we need help from someone, anyone… Please!) to help them find the savings but the contracts for these guys are shorter and more demanding. 3 weeks seems to be the new norm.

7)      Service managers start muttering darkly about those ‘bloody increments

Even the smallest things that might affect a managers budget are greeted with deep concern and previously accepted parts of local government life (like an increment) are seen as hand grenades making setting that budget even more difficult that it has otherwise been.

8)      The head of procurement takes on an almost deity like position in the authority

All savings that can be made from goods and services (buying stuff) are savings that don’t need to be made elsewhere. Any help you can get to do that means one less job you might have to lose. Today is the age of the procurement head!

9)      You get a random ‘catch all’ recruitment freeze.

It’s not sensible in any way shape or form but stuff it, if we use a little recruitment drag and saves the jobs of a few people here then why not? Areas with high turnover of staff tend to disagree but no pain no gain…

10)  Providing a gold plated service is seen as a bad thing

Any service that provides a gold plated service is obviously spending too much right… What we need is cheap mediocrity at all times.

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:

Employing a star?

February 21, 2011

Over-achiever or self-printed certificate?

I recently heard an amusing story from a friend of mine in a council in one of this nation’s big cities.

The council my friend works for was in the process of employing a new senior member of staff (when I say senior we are talking one of the top five or so members of staff in the local authority; the sort of person who would definitely be on Eric Pickles list… It is no secret that local authorities are currently under a lot of pressure and this job was considered by the members of the council to be so important to their long term future that they dreamed up a very complex recruitment process.

I’m no HR professional but when the recruitment process used was described to me I was very impressed. There was:

  • Testing
  • Interviews with other senior officers and members
  • A speed dating interview event with staff and other stakeholders (including customers)
  • A presentation

So why tell this story?

Because the council in question were sold a pup. Apparently their new senior manager is about as effective as Jeremy Clarkson at a save the earth rally.

I’m talking mocked by other councils, laugh out loud bad.

It’s still early days but if this is true and the member of staff doesn’t help deliver the high quality that is not only expected but clearly needed then this recruitment process will turn out to be an unmitigated disaster.

Why does this happen? How could an appointment that bad, which within the first few months is widely criticised by those outside of the organisation, still occur even after this extensive recruitment process?


Six degrees of council management

February 8, 2011

Is Will Smith a Local Government Chief Exec in disguise?

Before he was an uber-mega star Will Smith starred in the ‘great in concept; ok in execution’ film Six Degrees of Separation. The films underlying idea, based on some academic research I believe, was that basically we are all only six steps away from knowing every person on the planet.

The reason I mention it is that being in Local Government often has the same feel to it except that where I said ‘we all’ I meant ‘the junior officer’ and where I said ‘every person on the planet’ I meant ‘the Chief Executive, Cabinet and other decision makers.’

You see the only way to get things done is to get the approval of those at the very top of the organisation but often the only way to get their approval is to go through every intervening management grade on the way up. I call it the ‘six degrees of council management’.

Obviously, this is not always the case but an example from the past week has reminded me of why the hierarchy is so damn important. Basically, and here I am cutting a long story short and taking a large amount of credit for work completed by a team of people, we had been working on a project specifically for the Chief Executive. She was in charge and it was by her hand that the project would live or die. We were jumping over the six degrees of separation and found ourselves straight at the sharp end.

The report, my manager and I, jumping over several levels of responsibility had met with the CE and had quickly been shot down. She liked our work but hated our report which was, ‘overlong, over-complex and lacking structure.’ We were sent away to improve the report; we did so and received the assent of the big boss to take the report to the Councillors.


Schapp Attack

January 11, 2011

Is he really helping here?

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about Councils using stealth taxes and raising charges in order to pay for the salaries of their Chief Execs and other senior managers.  Normally I would ignore such things as the tripe that they are, but over the weekend and the beginning of this week some fairly big names have waded into the debate.

On Monday I heard Grant Shapps discussing this on BBC London, and listened to him trot out this and other lines such as how local authorities should need to do nothing more than a bit of restructuring to save the 4.5%.  He happily glossed over the fact that many Councils are facing a cut of much more than this, with some having to make 8.9% this year and then keep on cutting until they’ve saved over 25% over the next few years.

He then spouted the old faithful: “how many chief execs earn more than the Prime Minister”.  We’ve spoken about this ridiculous argument before, but it seems to be the default position when it comes to anything to do with money and local authorities.  This arbitrarily set wannabe high-water mark should be something that the Daily Express came up with and championed, but instead it appears to have gained traction with the impressionable masses.

The trouble with all of this talk is that it paints local government in a universally bad light.  Central government seems to be positioning itself to blame local government should anything go wrong, and in examining the pay of a handful of executives has a quick and easy tag line to stand behind.  They ignore the fact that even if these execs went down to a fraction of what they earned, this still wouldn’t even make a dent in the amount that has to be saved and would be nothing more than a political statement.


If a job’s worth doing, do it properly

January 6, 2011

Let's see some proper ideas for a change

I noticed this article recently, which discusses the fact that most Chief Execs won’t take a pay cut as demanded by DCLG.  I can imagine Eric Pickles’ rage and fury that an edict he has issued has been summarily ignored by those in the field.

To be honest, and I’m not going to make friends here, I can see the Chief Execs points.  The cutting of their salary by 5% is hardly going to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, and is nothing more than a token gesture of solidarity.  In fact it’s not even a very good gesture – if I saw my own chief exec taking a 5% cut I’d still be aware that their remaining 95% was ample to support their lifestyles.

This is typical of the small-mindedness and headline grabbing attention that is getting local government nowhere.  People aren’t worried about whether their chief execs get paid £142,500 or £150,000, they are worried about whether or not four out of five of their team will be made redundant within a few months.

This spending review, and the restructures that go with it, are a chance for us to really look at what services local government should actually really be providing, and to what standards.  We should be looking at the things people need rather than the things people want, or even the things we want to deliver because either they sound good or because we have always provided them in the past.  If a service is needed – and I mean really needed, not just desired – then we should be keeping it and delivering it to at least acceptable if not good standards.  If not, then let’s look at other ways of providing it or simply letting it go.

Instead, from my own experience we are doing none of this.  We are looking at the people in our teams, picking those that we like or those projects which have received a positive response from the media or our bosses and also looking at power bases.  Senior managers are not doing anything which will jeopardise their own status or job security (as demonstrated by Camden in my opinion), and in fact are doing all they can to be the last ones standing.

If we keep focussing on easy targets, like how much a single member of staff is getting paid, we are missing whatever chance we had of making something positive out of this awful financial situation.  Let’s stop looking at a single twig and look at the whole forest.

Dress code dilemmas

September 1, 2010

Not something for the office wall?

From time to time we write short entries about dress codes; normally on the back of senior managers sending out new dress codes (which are subsequently dropped) or because our local Trade Union branch has got their knickers in a twist about a request that local government staff don’t where Black Sabbath T-shirts to work.

Today’s blog is a variation on a theme.

This afternoon I met our Chief Executive for the first time. I know it’s wrong but one of the first things I noticed was the fact that she was wearing trainers.

This might be the way that I was brought up but is it wrong to expect that the Chief Executive, the person who makes all the decisions about the future of the council, should be wearing shoes?

It’s not that I’m a great fan of shoes; they can be uncomfortable and designed purely to look good (heels anyone?) but not all shoes are uncomfortable and for some reason I want my Chief Executive to make an effort.

I had a friend who used to approach university exams dressed in a really smart outfit; her argument was that you needed to dress to intimidate the exam paper and if he did he would then rise to the occasion. Isn’t that the same with your Chief Executive, especially when there are important meetings to attend like there were today?

Anyway, next time the Union put out a newsletter asking us to campaign against the dress code I’ll ignore them and pledge to sign up to the code; if the Chief Executive puts her trainers away at the same time!