I hear that my blog on Councillors finding freedom difficult is attracting interest around the country. I am being asked to provide some more thoughts on how a good Council could become more efficient and successful, now it can cast off the government controls and bureaucracy.
I would suggest Councillors begin at the top of their organisations. Many Councils are top heavy with officers brought in to respond to labour’s endless circulars, questionnaires, special grants, plans and requirements. Now we see the end of the Comprehensive Area Assessments, regional plans and the pressure to set up Partnerships, much of this needless central bureaucracy can be swept away.
Councils need good management. The management positions should reflect the priorities of the Council, and should have job titles we can all understand so we know who is responsible for what. A new Council might look something like this:
Strategy and Policy: Leader of the Council advised by Majority/coalition Councillors
Chief Officer: Head of management team, adviser to Leader and ruling Group on strategy, responsible for implementation of the strategy. Responsible for smooth running of the Council and for regularity. The post is not comparable to Chief Executive of a company, as it is not revenue and profit responsible, and takes the general strategy from the ruling Group’s manifesto. Pay should be less than the Prime Minister’s.
Chief Finance Officer
Chief Education Officer
Chief Social Services Officer
Chief Environment and Planning Officer
Chief Officer for Regulation and public protection (trading standards,police liaison etc)
This team of five Chief Officers could have the following principal reports:
Education: Head of Schools
Head of libraries and cultural affairs
Head of Special Education
Head of childrens services
Head of adult services
Head of social housing
Environment and Planning
Head of Highways
Head of public transport
Head of Planning
Head of Personnel
Head of IT and back office services
Head of property and capital programme
That makes a total of 18 senior officers. It would be possible to reduce this further if Chief Officers would take on one of the named functions reporting to them themselves. The Chief Education Officer, for example could also be Head of Schools. The Environmental Chief could also be the Chief Planner.
This structure would simplify the Chief Officer’s task, with just five direct reports. Chief officers meetings would be smaller and shorter. From time to time when the Chief Officers’ group reviewed specialist areas, they could bring in the next tier of officers in the relevant subject area. Each Chief officer would have fewer than four direct reports.
This is a model for a Unitary or County authority. Districts would need less, as they do not carry out fucntions like Education and Social services. They might even be able to share Chief Officers with neighbouring authorities.
It would have the advantage of letting the public know who did what in a straightforward way.