Council boss will not be ‘shared’

County councillors in Norfolk have rejected suggestions from communities secretary Eric Pickles that the chief executive's post is a non-job.

Mr Pickles is keen for councils to try and save cash by sharing top officer posts and has previously questioned both the value and substance of the chief executive's role suggesting that

Some district authorities including Breckland and South Holland, and Great Yarmouth and South Norfolk, and Waveney and Suffolk Coastal have already decided to share their senior officer teams and move towards a single chief executive.

But a report by members of the county council's corporate resources overview and scrutiny panel has given the thumbs down to the idea of sharing a chief executive with other authorities.

Currently boss David White has faced criticism for is basic �205,000 a year salary.

Ironically the authority had proposed a single boss when it had previously put forward proposals for a unitary Norfolk council during the Labour government's local government review.

And it comes as uncertainty surrounds the role of Suffolk County Council's under fire chief executive Andrea Hill, who has faced repeated criticisms for her �218,000 salary and has been asked to take extended leave while alleged 'whistle-blowing' complaints are investigated.

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But the cross-party working group opted to take an 'objective' look at the value of the chief executive's role in Norfolk following comments by Mr Pickles in 2010.

The group looked at whether the role of the chief executive could be shared between chief officers, the leader of the council, another county or district council and other public sector organisations, but concluded that if things went wrong, costs could be several times more than any savings made in salaries.

It noted other research which stated that significant savings were only possible if arrangements went beyond just the chief executive post and included senior management teams and services. And while it noted that there was potential for joint working with other county councils, joining up with another county would not only lead to an increased workload and make the chief executive answerable to two different political masters, but sharing senior management and or frontline services would be a 'risky road'.

The report also stressed the increasingly complex nature of the post, which entails leading a very large organisation through significant change to ensure it is fit to face the future, pointing out that the number of senior officers reporting directly to Mr White had risen from six to ten since April of this year, following the deletion of the post of director of corporate resources.

A hundred managers' posts had been deleted following a review, saving more than �4m a year in the process, and the management structure was being kept under review as the Authority moves towards a greater commissioning, rather than, service delivery model.

And it concluded that the functions are perfectly clear, although they accept that work needs to be done to raise public awareness of the role played by the chief executive in providing high quality, value for money services.

'We reject the suggestion made by the secretary of state for communities and local government that the post of a local authority chief executive is a 'non job'. The functions seem perfectly clear and our witnesses from within Norfolk County Council, from both a political and senior management perspective, evidently value the contribution that this role makes to the overall running of the council.

'There are a number of risks involved in the various possible arrangements for sharing a Chief Executive, not least in reducing the capacity for providing strong, impartial leadership and accessibility to staff and Members. At best, part of any savings made is probably lost in remunerating other staff for taking on increased responsibilities. If things go wrong, however, the costs could be several times any savings made in salaries.'

Cliff Jordan, who chaired the working group, said he planned to send a copy of the group's findings to Mr Pickles, stating that its conclusions were in the best interests of the people of Norfolk.

'We have had a very thorough look at this issue and while we aren't saying other ways of working might not be right in other parts of the country, we are very clear about what is right for Norfolk at this stage in its development. Our job is to take an informed decision based on the facts and our belief is that councillors up and our down the country need to be free to decide what's best for their particular county.'

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