Friday, 21 January 2011

Chief Executive or politician - make your choice


An understandable fury has come about as a result of remarks made by Bradford Council’s Chief Executive at the Bradford Professionals Network. The reported remarks include these:

“The Government is determined to dismantle the state.  That’s the basic approach. In the interests of political balance I would also say that the previous Government took a top down approach which increased bureaucracy.  Changes to funding for local authorities has seen resources diverted from urban council areas to the shires.  While Dorset has received a bigger share of funding, Bradford has seen a 14 per cent reduction and that’s not fair."

From the point of view of being a politician this concerns me – not because our Chief Executive holds views but because he can only speak on behalf of the Council. Thus when these words were spoken they became the viewpoint of the Council. And that viewpoint is set by elected members not by appointed officials. Indeed, those same elected members choose a Lord Mayor and a Leader to represent the views.

This statement represents a further erosion of the boundary between political debate and public service – characterised by the high profile roles of council Chief Executives such as Sir Bob Kerslake and the ill-judged comments of Barnsley’s Chief Executive about Eric Pickles.

However, my concern is not with these men and their public utterances. It is that senior councillors have allowed them to become the voice of the Council – have stood back so long as it suited for the smart, articulate Chief Executive to make the speeches. While it is true that many senior council officers are as politicised as officials of quangos, the fault lies with politicians for allowing this not with the officials for adopting a political position.

The problem – in the Bradford example – is that the Chief Executive made these overtly political comments while sat alongside the Council Leader. I like to think that Cllr Greenwood – on returning to the City Hall – gave our Chief Executive a bollocking for stepping beyond his remit. But somehow I doubt it. Somehow I suspect our dear leader was smiling quietly at was a great political win – made more so by the perception that Chief Executives are somehow wiser, more independent and more informed than us politicians.

At some point the Chief Executive may have to work with Conservative councillors to manage the council. Can we be confident given his publicly expressed views? Such men should remain silent and leave the politics to politicians.


1 comment:

SadButMadLad said...

This just proves my point that I repeat in many places - that it's not the councillors who control the council but the civil servants and CEOs that do so. This is only a generalisation, there are exceptions. What's the point in voting in councillors when the CEO and his staff stay in place and don't change their methods when the council switches control.