Wednesday 21 December 2011

Brent Council: Who's in charge?

The relationship between the Chief Executive of a council and its Leader varies between councils. That between Brent's Chief Executive, Gareth Daniel and Councillor Ann John. Leader, has come in for comment because it sometimes appears that the usual roles have been reversed: Gareth Daniel is the political leader and Ann John the manager of cuts. It is more likely that the roles have begun to merge.

Back in 1997 the Local and Central Government Relations Research No 55 stated:
Chief executives’ view of the future is coloured by their role in local governance. Interview evidence suggests most of those active in local governance think it can be developed within existing legislation.

A few would like to see the position of the chief executive strengthened at the expense of councillors, who would see their role reduced to broad policy and scrutiny. A strengthened chief executive might resemble an unelected mayor. If elected mayors were introduced some existing chief executives, it was suggested, would stand for election, a comment that reinforces evidence of a local leadership role taken by some chief executives.
Certainly Gareth Daniel had to take such a role in 2005 when he ran the council in the interregnum after the NOC election when the political parties were unable to agree coalition arrangements.

More recently his Newsletters to council staff have revealed further information about the relationship and particularly his stance on the cuts::
All councils have a legal duty to live within their means and to set a balanced budget and the Executive was clear that this is what will happen.  But they were also equally clear that they wanted to think and plan ahead at least to the end of their current four year term and to do their utmost to protect frontline services.  This approach will give us all a degree of confidence about the future and some assurance that our political leaders have both the ability and inclination to take control of events. (November 2011)
This month's Newsletter sees him taking a political stance that criticises those fighting the cuts:
I have been particularly struck recently by the electorate’s response to the financial problems facing the public sector.  It’s not that I am surprised that the British people don’t like paying more taxes, fees and charges – who does?  I am also not that surprised when local people protest against plans to close a much-loved local facility whether it is a library, a school, a clinic or a post office.  People understandably don’t like losing things that they value or which they see as important parts of their local community.  But what I do find surprising is the degree to which the public seems to be in denial about the very existence of a financial crisis at all and their curious belief that councils and other public services should somehow solve their financial problems without making any changes to service provision.
More controversially he then seeks to instruct council employees, already working harder because of staff reductions, experiencing frozen wages, and with further cuts hanging over them, to persuade the electorate to accept the cuts:
It is now the job of every council employee to help explain these facts to the very best of our ability.  It’s probably unrealistic to expect people to praise us for taking tough but necessary decisions – that really would be a surprise!  But the public do have a responsibility to live in the same real world that we ourselves occupy.  No grown up can simply ignore the economic realities and pretend that councils should continue with ‘business as usual’ regardless of the serious financial problems facing the country in general and local government in particular.  While many people are quick to condemn public servants for taking difficult decisions, the public cannot be allowed to think that difficult decisions can themselves be avoided.  That is the economics of cloud cuckoo land.

So I would like to ask all members of staff to see 2012 as the year in which we really try to get the message across to local people about the Council’s approach to budget reductions, service improvement and value-for-money.  Of course some people won’t listen whatever we say but I believe that the majority of people are open to argument most of the time.  That is our opportunity to make our case, to explain the really harsh climate in which councils are now having to operate and to win public understanding (if not actual support) for the approach we are taking.  The only alternative to the One Council programme would be even worse cuts to frontline services and even more unpopular decisions that would upset even more local people.  Brent Council has a good story to tell when it comes to budget savings – let’s all make sure we start to communicate our positive message with pride and conviction.  [Daniels' emphasis] (December 2011)
 Several councils have recently decided to do without Chief Executives. Such a decision would save Brent council Daniels' salary of £194,550 plus 20% on costs.  Unsurprisingly SOLACE , the Chief Executives' professional organisation, makes the case for Chief Executives:
The role of the Chief Executive and Leader are closely linked but are not wholly discrete –they are overlapping and complementary which brings its own set of tensions. One of the key roles of the Leader and Chief Executive should be to construct trust at a point of tension and potential conflict between the different
worlds of political logic and managerial logic. It is important that there is mutual understanding of each others’ roles, and this relies on good communications.

A Leader must be able to impart to their Chief Executive their understanding of the group and of the wider political context and imperatives without such communications being seen as disloyal. The Chief Executive needs in a similar way, without eroding the loyalty owed to colleague officers, to be able to discuss with a Leader their managerial capacity or incapacity to deliver on a particular agenda. This is not just about interpersonal skills but about mutual grasp of each other’s worlds.

A wise Chief Executive commits to their Leader unconditionally, and understands this as including roles of confidant, mentor, partisan, speech writer and PR consultant. When it works, the relationship between Leader and Chief Executive is an exceptional thing (My emphasis)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I became concerned about the leadership at Brent Council on becoming aware of this: an opt-out of their Freedom of Information and Data Protection obligations - or a 'ban' applied to an ex-employee. Just why would a council DO this, if not to throw a blanket of secrecy over *something*? Ann John emailed me to say it was done to stop a particularly awkward requester who was causing problems to staff.

There is a ready-made exemption within the FOI Act to stop 'vexatious' requesters - so the question has to be asked.... WHY?

Lots more detail here: