Aug 19 2014

Council Staff Demand Leadership – Want Chief Exec back

harrow_council_logoIn what could be a damning interpretation of Cllr David Perry, the latest leader of Harrow Council’s leadership, two thirds of those who responded to an internal consultation said they supported a restoration of the Chief Executive’s role. The most widely expressed reasons for favouring the appointment of a Chief Executive position included “…the need for a strong leader to take the Council through the difficult period ahead.” Interesting…

Out of almost 5000 people asked, 384 – not quite 8% – responded with their view.As we said previously, a low turn-out was expected, given Dave’s timing of his consultation, barely a few days before the start of the school holidays. So, let’s put some numbers on this.

Firstly, Dave’s figure of “nearly 5000” people actually turns out to be 4,497, so “just over 4,000” might have been a better way of putting it.

Secondly, out of those 4497, 2604 of them (58%) were school staff, who had mere days before the end of term, when, presumably, they had better things to do than respond to Dave’s survey. And out of those 2604 school staff, 984 of them – 38% – don’t even live in the borough. But, of course, we don’t know how many school staff voted.

Next up, the remaining council staff, out of all 1893 of them, only 46% live in the borough. So, the total number of people consulted, who live in the borough and will, therefore, see the impact of having – or not – a chief executive are only 2499. Or, to use some Dave-like rounding, half of those consulted don’t live in Harrow.

See the note below about “living in the borough.”

Council Leader David Perry said: “‘I would like to thank all staff who took part in this consultation. This is just the start of what I will hope will be more collaborative working between the administration and council officers over the next four years. I have always maintained that the deletion of the CEO post was done with the minimum consultation possible. Staff were not allowed any say – we have put that right by actually asking our employees and elected representatives what they think. This consultation is about having the right kind of management structure to oversee the huge challenges facing Harrow Council, particularly the need to slash £75 million from our budget due to Government cuts. Over the coming few weeks we will consider the best route forward before putting a recommendation to next month’s cabinet meeting.”

The irony is that should Dave go ahead, and reinstate the role, it’ll cost residents around £1,000,000 over the four years of his administration. Plus whatever recruitment fees add on to that.

Cllr Susan Hall, who led the council when the chief executive was ditched, said: “It is a pity that Labour are not confident enough to lead the council and need a chief executive to do their work for them. Going through the pretence of a consultation with staff is a joke. Labour were always going to do this either way and not all the staff even live in the borough. It is taxpayers who will pay for this costly decision and yet they were not asked.”

But, Dave – here’s a thought. Why not offer the role to Cllr Hall instead? She’s clearly got the balls to shake up the council’s officers, and isn’t worried about upsetting people. Look at the Great Credit Card Spend where we revealed that the Council’s corporate credit cards had been used to buy books, cameras, and rental of a dinner jacket, not to mention dishwasher tablets. In fact, you’d probably get away with spending a lot less than £180,000 on her – I’d be willing to bet she’d do it for half that, and she probably wouldn’t slip on her spandex shorts and go for a 90 minute run every lunch time before rushing to catch the train home smack on time. In fact, if you look at the progress she made in the few months after your group fell apart last year, I’m pretty sure she’d whip some of those officers into shape again. Want me to broker a deal?

Dave outsourced the consultation to an independent company to run – we’re awaiting further details on the cost of that – and the report is light on detail. Barely any numbers mentioned at all, to be honest. But let’s sit and wait until the next cabinet meeting, and see if Dave has the audacity to stand up and ask for a million hard-earned pounds so he can continue his two-day week.

Of course, it could be that any new chief executive could be lined up for a poisoned chalice – and perhaps £1,000,000 spent on a scapegoat might just be a risk that Cllr Perry is will to run with.

Footnote: we asked the council to tell us the home postcodes (first two characters) of all of the council and school staff, so we could determine if they lived in the borough or not. This approach is flawed, in that the HA postcode extends into other boroughs. For example, HA3 extends down into Wembley and HA4 extends to Ruislip. The council refuses – for good reason, we admit – to give us all postcodes, and explained, when we asked if it could truncate those postcodes to give us just part of the postcode that “…the Council’s SAP HR system is only able to report full text from relevant fields…”

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  1. Rob

    Thank you for this rigorous analysis of council processes & their impact on Harrow. Please keep it up. It is great to know you are there!

  2. mike mcfadden

    If Labour are hell bent on front line defence of their policies ie. chief executive, perhaps they should axe a £1,000,000 plus of dead weight from council offices. Anyone, only working a four day week and Friday from home should go or only get paid for a short week.

  3. Mike N

    Does anyone else feel that we, the tax paying residents of the London Borough of Harrow, are some how being cheated by Dave and his gang ? They so easily forget that they are supposed to be running the council on our behalf. In other words…..They work for us !

    1. Someonewhocares

      What? – I was under the distiinct impression that WE were all here for THEIR convenience!

  4. Charis

    Not really sure what ‘living in the borough’has to do with anything. If you want to see resident views, well, you need a resident survey, not an employee one. All employees will be affected in their job roles by the existence or not of a chief exec and it is presumably in that capacity that they were consulted…

  5. Concerned Harrovian

    I agree with Rob. Thanks are due to Paul for shining a light on the murky shenanigans of politicians.


    The reason people are upset is because through the council tax we pay the wages of those employed at the civic centre. Those employees who do not live in Harrow will not be paying the council tax but are happy we pay their wages.

    The following parody of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” sums up the disillusionment of people with politicians.

    If you can get yourself a fancy title,
    Though no one knows just what your job’s about,
    If you can screw up projects that are vital,
    Then shift the blame before they find you out;
    If you can treat a rival like a brother,
    Then stab him in the back each chance you can;
    If you can steal the program of another,
    Then take the credit that it was your plan;

    If you can rig expenses that are phony,
    While everyone believes that they are real;
    If you can take long lunches with a crony,
    And make your boss believe you’ve closed a deal;
    If you can get the office staff to love you,
    When in your heart of hearts you think they’re dirt;
    If you can look alive to those above you,
    When nine to five no effort you exert;

    If you can seem free-thinking and courageous,
    Yet always end up siding with your boss;
    If you can get a mammoth raise in wages,
    Yet make him feel you’re working at a loss;
    If every line that’s written here you’ve noted,
    And every rule and precept you obey,
    Then to the highest spot you’ll be promoted,
    Unless, of course, you’re knifed along the way.”

    “If you can keep your wealth when all about you
    Are losing theirs from paying income tax;
    If you can make quite sure that no one doubts you
    By selling to the networks your own “facts”;

    If you can reap the harvest that is waiting
    For those who fight both sides of one same war;
    If you spend hours televised, debating
    For bussing and for “welfare” for the “poor”;

    If you can trade with Reds, and all the while
    Be charging what they owe to our own banks;
    If you can have us lose a war, then smile,
    Because you know you’re only getting thanks;

    If you can hold an office, but each minute
    Be out afloat, and calmly goin’ fishin’,
    The U.K. is yours, and all that’s in it,
    Because, my son, you’ll be a politician.”

  6. Marcello Borgese

    Good work. I initially felt Perry deserved a bit of time to demonstrate his leadership style but he’s shaping up to be such an autocratic and non-communicative leader that soon we’ll be wishing we had Navin Shah back in charge – even with his 22% Council Tax rise!

    In his letter issued just a few days before the end of term, Perry states: “The current interim arrangements will remain in place until a permanent appointment is made.” He’s clearly pre-empting the outcome of the so-called consultation, a typical trait of Labour leaders.

    He also makes a number of politically motivated criticisms of the opposition; this letter is not an appropriate forum to do that. I sincerely hope his manners improve as he gains more experience. I also remain disgusted that the invitation to respond to the consultation was only to council staff, councillors and trade unions. What about the general public and local businesses i.e. those who pay for the council?

    Our only hope is that whoever considers applying for the job will do his/her homework and realise that the majority of Harrovians do not want a Chief Exec and that hopefully will discourage anyone from taking the job. But I can just imagine Perry patting the candidate on the back saying: “Don’t worry about the plebs, we never listen to them anyway.”

    If someone does take the job, it must be made clear to them that their overall objective is: “to save more than £75m over the next four years.” as stated on p.3 of July’s Harrow People. If they don’t achieve that, they must be dismissed with no golden ‘pay-off’.

    Meanwhile, living on the edge of the borough, I could always pray that the Boundary Commission will act and put our road into another borough!

  7. lisa

    How do you know that the Majority of Harrow residents don’t want a Chief Executive??

    1. Angelina

      And how do you know that they do? A Council can be run without a Chief exec as Harrow has done for this past year. Why would any tax paying resident want to spend a shed load of money on a position that has been proved we can do without?

      1. Lisa

        I don’t know but i also don’t persume unlike some that they don’t

        1. Angelina

          I am not presuming it is just sound logic. It appears that you may work for the Council? What is abundantly clear is the tax paying residents should have been the first ones to have a say in whether to re-instate or not. Secondly it is also clear that David Perry is not as able to run the Council as efficiently as Susan Hall did? At the end of the day respect is given to those that save our hard earned money something David Perry is not willing to do.

    2. Bill Phillips

      It’s difficult to argue either way. The main consultation on this is of course the election where the major parties had differing views. The Harrow residents voted in the party, Labour, who had plans to reinstate the Chief Exec post. If the people of Harrow did not want a Chief Exec then arguably they would not have voted Labour into the control of the Council. The opposition would then argue that taking all the votes in Harrow into account rather than the individual winners in each ward then the Conservatives, the party that got rid of the Chief Exec, managed to win a few more votes than Labour.

      My own view is that the residents of Harrow should not expect that 63 people randomly taken from amongst their number should be expected to run a £600M annual turnover organisation. That is not their job, that is the job of professionals. The job of councillors is to decide policy and priorities. One has only to see what happened when the Council was run directly by the Leader, there was opportunistic and arbitrary decisions, poor morale amongst sections of the staff, and the loss of good senior officers.

  8. Mike N

    The point is, we will never know if the majority of Harrow residents want a new Chief Executive or not because the ruling Labour Party are not the slightest bit interested in our views. However I bet if we were asked then the answer would be NO considering the £180000 wage packet that is on offer.
    The residents of Harrow are not stupid and would want this sort of money put into services. After all a high percentage of us can only dream of that sort of money.

  9. Marcello Borgese

    Hello Lisa

    I’m not one to speculate wildly so this is how I reached my conclusion:

    1. Unofficially – Harrow Times readers’ poll published earlier this month showed 66% were against re-employing a Chief Exec and only 27% in favour i.e. two and a half times as many people don’t want than do want.

    2. Officially – The most dramatic thing the Tories did during their brief tenure in power recently was to remove the Chief Exec. In the subsequent borough elections, the Tories received more votes than any other party i.e. more members of the public in Harrow approved of what the Tories did in council than any other party.

    3. Experientially – Everyone I have spoken to about this has told me they do not want to see a Chief Exec re-employed at Harrow Council – every single one.

    Although this is not definitive, it is I believe conclusive. But as Mike N has said, we will never know for certain because we, the tax-paying public, have not been asked. Additionally, there’s no evidence at all that indicates the public do want a Chief Exec.

    Are you listening, Perry and your Merry Men? Probably not.

    1. Lisa

      No we won’t know for certain but i also speak to people and unlike you the workers i have spoken too would like to see a Chief Exec back to stop the Councillors doing what they please with know one to answer too . Which is what the Conservatives didn’t like about the last one.We can only speculate as too what the Harrow residents really want. But did the Conservatives ask the residents when they got rid of the last one? If they were so sure we didn’t why did they not ask? At least we would have something to go on.

    2. Someonewhocares

      With respect not ‘conclusive’ at all –
      1) How many Times readers actually responded?[Are you aware that only ‘those against something’ tend to respond to such polls?]
      2) Surely it is false logic and academic to say ‘the Tories won more votes so this means folks did not want a Chief Exec.’?
      3) ‘Everyone I have spoken to’ is not very indicative either, as it depends who you asked!

      1. Marcello Borgese

        Hello S-W-C

        You’re technically not incorrect, of course, but if you are saying that conclusions cannot be drawn from any survey with less than 100% participation then you’re saying that all elections are invalid because turnout is always below 100%, usually way below.

        There was an election for a PCC in the Midlands last week and the turnout was 10%. The ‘winner’ got 50% of the vote so someone was appointed with only 5% of the electorate voting for him! That job pays £100,000 a year by the way.

        You also seem to suggest that if someone responds to a survey, their opinion is invalid because they are the type of person who responds to surveys!

        As for your comment to part 2., all political parties should now be told they are wasting money on political analysts as apparently people vote for totally random reasons, not party policy or performance.

        I admit, the evidence available is not powerful or overwhelming but I repeat there is absolutely zero evidence to the contrary.

        1. Someonewhocares

          You are free to draw any conclusions you wish, MB, even inaccurate ones – for instance now you have also concluded I require 100% participation for surveys – but I didn’t! Similarly I did NOT say just responding to surveys made those responses invalid either – but you did! Looks like a tendency here to draw false conclusions therefore?

          Back on topic the main point is WHY only 384 responded to the ‘internal’ survey – any ideas on that? Similarly clearly we WILL be appointing a new CE it is all probably irrelevant anyway? I suspect that is why so few responded – it was ALREDY decided?

  10. Angelina

    Totally agree Marcello!
    Seriously David Perry spends more money on a consultation, does not even time it right ie only 384 people responded, and has the gall to not even include us tax paying residents.
    How much more evidence do you need that this guy is totally incompetent, does not care about Harrow residents, and is only on board to fill his own boots and only works 2 days a week part time at that!
    We do not want one and we do not need one it has been proved.
    Bring a Chief exec back at your peril……..there are ways to vote you out surely as quickly as you were voted in!

    1. Someonewhocares

      Wonder just how much it cost to get those 384 responses? Wonder why so few responded anyway? Anyone seen the actual ‘response form’ they used for this?

      Obviously when a new Chief Exec. is appointed they should be FULL not part time.

  11. Local government officer

    There are good reasons why local councils have a Chief Executive and Harrow is missing out if it tries to struggle on without one. Having a Chief Executive is the accepted, normal, respectable and conventional model right across local government. To do without one is risky and unusual.

    The roles of Leader and Chief Executive are completely different and both essential if the council is to tackle the problems it faces in the next four years. There is an extensive range of research available that backs this up.

    It is no accident that the overwhelming majority of local councils have a CE, particularly the councils that have a reputation for providing high quality services. No one would suggest that Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea or Wandsworth are spendthrift or inefficient.

    It is precisely because of the challenges facing the council that it needs a CE.
    The cost of the post is a drop in the ocean when compared with the total council budget and a high quality CE would be able to save the cost of their salary many times over – not just in cuts but in making the organisation more effective.

    1. Marcello Borgese

      These are fine words LGO. But that is all they are – words. You have not substantiated your views with any local evidence. I hope this is not how council officers go about their jobs; making decisions based on opinions without any evidence?

      Are you suggesting that currently, while we have no Chief Exec, the council is an absolute disaster zone at the moment? It seems Harrow’s residents have more confidence in you and your colleagues than you yourself do.

      When Lockwood came, he made a fancy video about all the wonderful things he was going to do and how the borough would be transformed. Can you honestly say his dream was achieved?

      And while you’re there, why should a council boss be paid more than the Prime Minister?

  12. Someonewhocares

    Well said and good to see the ‘voice of reason’ there – in that there are definitely good REASONS to have a CE and it is based on NEED not POLITICS! The idea that Harrow can somehow ‘do without one’ is of course crazy, but we now need to make sure we get a GOOD one, too, as there are tough times ahead.

  13. the red mirror

    oh really ? does that include spending two hours of work time jogging round the boro and riding an exercise bike (in the office!!!!) could you also give us the references that you( allude) to pray tell just what is tour agenda i wonder? possible candidate are we?.

  14. Willy Stoodley

    Save the cost of a quarter of a million salary a year and a half pay pension? I doubt that!

  15. Cllr. Paul Osborn

    Kensington and Chelsea share a Chief Exec with Hammersmith and Fulham. This is an option taken off the table without any consultation by the current administration.

    There is actually very little evidence to support the argument that a Chief Exec and Leader are “essential” to deal with the challenges Local Government faces.

    I think it is perverse to argue that we have £75 million of savings to find over four years and then to boast your first action is to increase that to £76 million.

  16. Someonewhocares

    Ok, then if this is such a good idea how many Local Authorities are actually run WITHOUT a CE? – and for that matter how many in London?

    Incidentally if any LA CE spends too much time ‘riding the gravy train’ (and so on) then why is that not very quickly exposed by Councillors, isn’t that what they are supposed to do?

    Maybe the new CE needs a contract with anti-jogging clauses, or how about performance-related pay? There are ways to employ a GOOD CE without all this nonsense, surely?

    1. Cllr. Paul Osborn

      Not many Councils run without a Chief Executive, which is why there isn’t much evidence on whether or not they are essential.

      Increasingly Councils are looking at sharing Chief Execs, and in a few cases abolishing the post entirely. I suspect as budgets continue to be pressured more will head down this path.

      Having seen three different Chief Execs in my time as a Councillor, including just under 5 years as a Cabinet Member, I am not convinced they deliver savings over and above what the Corporate Directors and other officers could deliver on their own, with direction from the Leader and Cabinet.

      Performance Related Pay has a very poor record of working in the public sector and all to often results in payment despite failing services as the performance targets are badly drawn up and often skew performance of those areas targeted at the expense of other equally important measures.

      I would maintain when looking at £75 million of savings and the reductions we have seen in front line services, having a full time Chief Exec does not provide value for money.

      Nor incidentally, in my personal view, does having 63 Councillors.

      1. Someonewhocares

        If most councils have a CE that IS evidence they are ‘essential’ surely?

        ‘Increasingly’? – any hard evidence to back that up?

        I realise ‘performance-related pay’ is generally almost meaningless in the public sector, but this is no excuse for not having a CE, it just means having a GOOD one is important. Why have we had such poor ones in the past?

        1. Cllr. Paul Osborn

          No, it is merely evidence that most Councils have one. As Harrow has one of the lowest Government grants per head and one of highest Council Tax levels it is always going to have to be at the leading edge of these things. The only way we will see if it is essential is when a number of Councils try it and it will either deliver savings or result in poorer services.

          Yes, There are currently 34 councils who share a chief executive and joint management team. This number is growing.

          Not sure why, but I’d also maintain the key is to have good Corporate Directors (the level below Chief Exec.) and strong political leadership.

          1. Someonewhocares

            Again the key point is then Councils (still) have a CE for good REASONS!

            We have all had quite enough ‘experimental governance’ of late here due mainly to the various (disastrous) political shenanigans of course and so your justification to be ‘at the leading edge’ is weak at best; We have certainly had enough ‘experimentation’ which seemed to deliver very little for residents except meaningless bickering. So yes, let those OTHER Councils pursue the various alternatives and see where is leads in general.

            Similarly 34 Councils is still only less than 10% of the total so ‘the jury is still out’ there too.

            Agree (and am quite sure) that good Corporate Directors are also key; Do we have these ?

  17. Angelina

    I agree Cllr Osborn and can someone explain why the option of sharing a chief exec was taken off the table?
    Eric Pickles secretary of state for communities and local govt described the chief exec position as ” a non job”, and further wanted to reduce the number of chief executives. It should also be known that the post of chief exec is non statutory. Eric Pickles has also taken action to reduce the extortionate amounts of money to ‘pay off’ a chief exec when they leave or are pushed out..
    Why have those in favour on here of reinstating not outlined the full job spec for both the leader of the council and the chief exec and then perhaps we may have a clearer understanding of why we need both?
    Furthermore I urge people to look at the localism act of 2011 in particular the sections on ‘making sure council tax payers get good value for money’ and ‘making councils more transparent and accountable to local people’. Anyone earning over £58,200 should have their pay and any severance packages made public.
    The Hutton review of fair pay in the public sector found top managers in local government had seen larger increases in pay than the lowest paid in their workforces! Fair I think not!
    I have just had a very quick look on line and have so far seen that Wiltshire, Rugby, and Nuneaton Councils run without a chief executive, there are probably more?
    The more I read the more I am utterly convinced that we do not need to reinstate a chief exec.
    However if someone from the Council can outline in detail on here the argument for reinstating including both job specs as mentioned previously, then maybe we may look to support it? Somehow I doubt it though!

    1. Someonewhocares

      Don’t think it as ever actually ON the table was it?

      Not sure the opinions of Eric Pickles should always be taken entirely seriously.

      Absolutely agree we want value for money though; How about reducing the salaries of the highest-paid -and apparently invisible/ineffective senior execs. – or, I know, let’s get a CE who can ensure they do all they jobs properly?

      You are also right not to expect anyone from the Council to explain here why a CE is needed, but of course there is a long history of the Council not needing to justify their actions to residents anyways, so maybe they just did not read the value & transparency clauses within the 2011 act you mentioned?

  18. Local government officer

    This is an interesting issue and one that people feel strongly about.

    I do not work for Harrow Council and have no interest in being Chief Executive – nor do I think I would be qualified to be Chief Executive. It is an extremely difficult and demanding job that needs a very talented and experienced person to do it well. My own strong view is based on more than 20 years working across local government for many years. That experience as led me to strongly believe that a good CE (and a good Leader) is the critical factor in having a high quality council.

    I have no knowledge of any previous chief executives and I think we should focus on the future, not the past.

    Sharing a CE is an option but I don’t think it is an easy one for Harrow. For one thing I think there is a great deal for that person to do and I would want them to concentrate on Harrow. It is also really only an option with two councils that are geographically and politically aligned and likely to be so in the long term – like Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham.

    There are a few councils that have abolished the CE post but it is only a few – and the jury is out on how well this will work out.

    I also feel that what the council needs is an injection of top level outside experience. Many local councils have achieved some remarkable improvements in recent years and if Harrow is to thrive then it needs to look beyond a policy of managed decline, cutting services bit by bit.

    I can only repeat that the cost of the post is a drop in the ocean when compared with the total council budget and a high quality CE would be able to save the cost of their salary many times over.

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