Back to Front PageLocal councils used to work quite well when there was a town clerk in charge of them. Then the geniuses at the Palace of Westminster got big ideas . . .


IN THE OLDEN DAYS, council departments were run by people who had risen through the ranks; Education, for instance, would have a former teacher in charge, Finance would be ruled by an accountant, etc. And there would be a Town Clerk, a "first among equals" (because he lacked the power to sack people), who had to be a solicitor because it was his job to tell everyone when they were about to break the law with one of their schemes.

Then the notion that councils have to be run like a private sector business became fashionable, and a culture of public service by elected councillors and value for money from the paid officers was abandoned completely.

The first change was that department heads became managers, usually with no experience of the work done by their staff, and the Town Clerk became a Chief Executive Officer on a fancy salary/pension arrangement, and with a legal department because he (or she) no longer had to be a solicitor.

There was a significant flaw in this notion. In the real world, customers who don't like the way a company operates, or the products/service it offers, can usually go elsewhere. But in the public sector, the residents of Ruritania East have no option but to be customers of their council, and its management can make all sorts of blunders, and waste vast amounts of C-taxpayers' money, with impunity.

And when the blunders become so heinous that dismissal is required, the offender departs with a fancy pay-off and a free transfer to a similar job on another council.

So, bearing that background information in mind, let us take a look at what is happening in Ruritania East.

Well, the council is in trouble for breaking planning regulations. The intentions were noble, involving recycling and saving some money by more efficient operating, but someone strayed too far into the real-world model. The real-world business proposition "Let's get it done" was applied without bothering about the legal constraints on a public-sector council. Not something which would happen with a Town Clerk in charge, but he's long gone.

"What can we do?" the people who mattered asked themselves. Pin the blame on a trio of managers, who got on with the job? And what about the CEO, who should have known what they were doing because she was in charge of everything?

Well, the CEO was off on gardening leave at the time. She had taken time off to look after a sick relative then she had announced that she had stress because one or more councillors had been rude to her. The legal department, in fear and trembling of an industrial tribunal and constructive dismissal and compensation, wanted to give her a lot of C-taxpayers' money to buy her off.

And what about the Scapegoat Three? Well, the one at the centre of the Embarrassment was saying that he had done no more than follow the dictates of the prevailing, and long accepted, "Get it done" culture. Worse, The Leader of the council knew that the main scapegoat could point to all sorts of past instances of getting things done, which would be Even More Embarrassing if they were paraded at an industrial tribunal.

       FORGET IT
"Let's just forget the whole thing and write off the wasted C-taxpayers' cash as quietly as possible" was the preferred solution.

And what about the vacant job of CEO in Ruritania East? Well, The Leader was already lining up the former CEO of Salopia council, who was supposed to be doing a really marvellous job there right up to the moment when he just upped and left. One small problem; he had some baggage.

He was mixed up in a case involving institutional child abuse in another country. But as those perpetrating the abuse included members of the police force and the legal establishment, the investigation had been successfully stalled. He also had form for holding a "musical jolly" at vast expense to the taxpayer under the pretext of telling other CEOs how to make cuts.

Salopia council blocked attempts to inquire into the circumstances of his departure, but it seems that the former CEO left whilst the council was "in crisis in the midst of massive cuts, low staff morale, declining services and in the process of a potentially disastrous transfer of services" (to a new company set up by the council to run some of its services at a profit).

The leader of Salopia's Labour group asked: “If there have been problems with his performance then why haven’t they been resolved without the current chaotic results? If there are no problems then why has he been allowed to go before finishing the job?” (of turning round a failing council).

Does this man sound like the right sort of person to be the new CEO of Ruritania East?

If your answer to that question is "Yes", now explain why The Leader of Ruritania East council is bringing in the new CEO by the back door and not processing the appointment through "the usual committees".

p.s. NASA launched its latest Mars rover at about the time when the Planning Embarrassment came to the notice of councillors out of the loop of usual suspects, who were hushing it up. Curiosity made a successful landing as the process of sneaking the new temporary CEO through the back door began.

The best estimates are that the Planning Embarrassment will rumble on for at least another year before The Leader decides it has to be made to go away quietly and at great expense of the C-taxpayer.

The wheels grind exceeding slow in the public sector.

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