David White, chief executive of Norfolk County Council.

Row over redundancy for Norfolk County Council’s chief executive

By DAN GRIMMER
Monday, January 14, 2013
3.14 PM

Councillors have agreed to make the chief executive of Norfolk County Council redundant within weeks, but opponents have slammed that decision as potentially “disastrous”.

As part of a council review known as Enterprising Norfolk, ordered by the controlling Conservative cabinet, chief executive David White, who is on a basic annual salary of £205,322, has recommended that he leaves the authority in April.

He said it had become “crystal clear” he lacks the skills the authority needs to become more commercially minded in an environment where government grants are dwindling and councils are expected to find ways to generate their own income.

Today, Norfolk county councillors agreed the post of chief executive in its current format should be made redundant from April, and a recruitment launched to find a replacement managing director, paid between £165,000 and £180,000 a year,

However, at the full council meeting where Mr White’s departure was agreed, opposition councillors had called for the decision to be put on hold until after May’s all-out council elections.

Sue Whitaker, Labour councillor for Lakenham, put forward a proposal to defer the decision for six months. She said: “The project we know as Enterprising Norfolk is due to report at the end of February so I find it very strange that the report is not being presented as a whole.

“I think this whole thing is predicated on the idea that there will be no change in the political make-up of this council after the elections in May, and I think that is arrogant.

“It’s a really silly time to say the head of his council should go, because it may be that we have a change of council and a change of leader, so this whole thing seems to be back to front to me.”

John Dobson, Conservative councillor for Dersingham agreed. He said: “I believe it is a wrong move for the chief executive to take redundancy at a critical time. We need a firm hand on the helm.”

And Paul Morse, Liberal Democrat councillor for North Walsham East, said shifting the council’s focus to becoming more commercial could have a “disastrous” outcome.

However, the proposal for the decision to be put on hold was defeated by 28 votes to 16, with one abstention. The council then agreed, by 28 votes to 15, with two abstentions that Mr White should be made redundant by April 6 and that the recruitment process should start.

Bill Borrett, the council’s acting leader, hit back at the critics for “party politics”. He said the council had to become more commercially minded because the amount of government grant was going down. He said: “We are going to have to be in business so we can protect our services. This is all about delivering the best services to the people of Norfolk.”