Following press coverage (which I blogged last week) of Bradford's Chief Executive critising the Government, the Conservative Group Leader has written the following latter to the Labour Council Leader:
Dear Councillor Greenwood.
The dismantling of the State
I refer to the Telegraph & Argus article Friday 21 January 2011 relating to the above and about which you are aware.
I have been contacted by the Chief Executive both verbally and in writing to explain the situation from which the headline arose.
Whilst I recognise that the Chief Executive was unaware of the presence of a journalist when making the remarks, I consider this fact to be largely irrelevant, as the Head of the Paid Service should not be making what the article describes as “a blistering attack” at a public gathering, on the policies of a government of any persuasion. Clearly he has the right to his opinions and to the private expression of those opinions, but as we are both aware, senior officers are politically restricted (Local Govt & Housing Act 1989, Part 1) and have a duty to be seen to be neutral when communicating on behalf of the council.
I am of the view that at an event where the Chief Executive of the council and the Leader of the Council had both been invited to speak, any party political observations should have been made only by the Leader of the Council. The article created an impression of something more akin to a political double act.
It is wholly and blatantly unacceptable for an officer to presume that as he cannot identify any journalists in the audience, he is free to breach his contract of employment and make public, political observations regarding any aspect of government policy. The expression of the personal opinion that the coalition government wishes to dismantle the state was particularly unfortunate, as is the fact that whilst the journalist in question was surprised, it seems that a significant number of my group members were not.
This is not the first occasion that colleagues and I have felt that there has been a blurring of the line between councillor and officer. You will recall that the Conservative Group were not enthusiastic supporters of the decision that the Chief Executive speak at the full council meeting 13 July 2010 and I am somewhat concerned that the label of the “ninety first councillor” is increasingly being used to sarcastically refer to the Chief Executive.
It is not my intention to join any calls for the resignation of the Chief Executive as the council has many problems to deal with at present, though I do publicly, through this open letter (the contents of which I consider to be in the public interest and thus shall be releasing to the press), request confirmation of what actions you consider appropriate to deal with the increasingly political profile of our head of paid service.
I look forward to receiving your comments.
We shall see what comes of all this - hopefully a politically neutral Chief Executive.