Next week is a potentially significant one for Brighton & Hove, on 16th July the Council will announce the name of its new interim Chief Executive. This may lead to the first public announcement on the leadership of our city from the convener of the Labour Group since 19th June when the BBC and Newspapers reported to you and I that Warren Morgan had decided it was time for us to say goodbye to our CEO. At the time the Council explained that an interim CEO would be appointed whilst head hunters set about finding a permanent replacement for Penny Thompson, someone who would be acceptable to the Labour Party. The Labour Party has been running the city since 10th May and it took the group just 6 weeks to find a reason to ask Penny to resign, promising her a substantial sum of our money, and agreeing to a binding legal agreement which prevents the political Administration from publicly discussing their decision. The only public statement which explains anything of substance is Penny’s final blog, still evident on the Council website:
“I am stepping down from the role of CEO of Brighton & Hove City Council. It has not been an easy decision. I don’t think my work is finished; but I do think it’s for the best. We have a new Labour Administration in the council. The Council wants to appoint a new CEO. I leave a strong, competent, highly motivated Executive Leadership Team and I hope that they can continue to deliver on the council’s ambitious and tough agenda.”
We understand that the amount of the payoff is £269,000 and it is clear that the cost of recruiting a new CEO including any increase to the annual pay rate will run into many 10’s of £1,000’s. Some have speculated that the overall cost to you and I of replacing Penny with a new CEO will run to £400,000. The decision to be bound to secrecy over this decision was entered into voluntarily following secret meetings by a group of men and women who campaigned to lead our city on a manifesto entitled “A Council that works for you – Labours contract with Brighton and Hove”. The manifesto ends with the phrase “Our amazing city needs competent council leadership which will improve the lives of residents in every community” and opens with the sentence “We will focus on what matters to you and make the positive changes which are needed to ensure our city is a better place. We want positive change for everyone in Brighton & Hove, a city where everyone should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential”. As we approach the 10th week of the Labour administration and well over half of their first 100 days I am hoping that Warren or even my own Councillors will suddenly find their voices. Their silence over the last month will be remembered for some time to come. We don’t need them to explain why they asked Penny to go, although frankly that would be very helpful. What we do need them to do is explain what they think is best for us in the context of a City Council which now finds itself without a permanent Chief Executive. This situation allows the Council the chance to consider its structure and cost base. After several years of lay offs and redundancies at different levels within the Council and in a context where many Councils are now sharing senior officers and back office costs, it would be foolish to assume that the only way forward is for a new CEO to be appointed on a full time basis for our City alone. I for one would like the opportunity to hear Warrens views and to hear various options debated. Whatever the financial cost, we cannot afford any more silence!