In June a cabal of Labour Councillors who had been elected to lead Brighton & Hove City Council five weeks earlier decided that the Council Chief Executive had to go. They committed substantial public funds to terminate Penny Thompsons contract (understood to be £269,000) and claimed that they would begin a process to find her replacement, but would in the meantime appoint an interim Chief Executive. There are no details known of the likely recruitment costs, nor of how much the Council may need to pay to find someone of the right calibre willing to work for a Council that has sacked two CEOs in less than 8 years and seen another make a premature exit from the city. A month after the news that Penny was to go, Councillors chose Geoff Raw as interim CEO, Geoff is widely respected by both Councillors and officers alike, and seen to be a safe pair of hands. At the same time they announced the timetable for recruitment would not begin until September, in effect a delay of 6 more weeks.
Throughout this time Warren and those Labour Councillors who are accessible via social media have chosen to say nothing in public about the sacking or any subsequent actions, claiming that the compromise agreement they made with Penny, prevents them from saying anything about their decisions. Indeed some of them who I know personally have become quite upset that I and other people continue to ask the same questions of them. They act as if being told that this is not our business will somehow appease us. Apparently the same level of silence does not apply to Penny whose words on the Council website continue to explain “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. I am pleased that the Administration recognises my huge contribution to the council and city over the past two and a half years.”
The Brighton & Hove Leader on Thursday claimed that as a result of the time it will take to recruit a CEO, that the process for compiling next years budget will be compromised. This reflects concerns I expressed in this blog at the end of July. However although Warren has remained tight lipped the Leader has suggested he is not prepared to be rushed into the selection process which includes interviews that are not due to begin until October 19th. That is just over 4 months since the news that Penny was sacked became public. There are no other details available, but it is likely that the successful candidate will need to give at least 3 months notice, so at best we will have been without a permanent CEO for nearly 8 months. In the meantime as I have written before, it is vital that the process for selecting a CEO is one that will stand the test of time. Penny Thompson privately sought confirmation from both Labour and Conservative groups that her selection by a Green Council had their support too. She claimed at the time that she would not take the job without that level of confidence from both groups. That seemed a wise move bearing in mind the history of the post she was being appointed to. Sadly these assurances proved to be entirely worthless. The challenge we now face as plans are made for the interviews, is how to prevent the same thing happening in 2019? We cannot afford to offer even less confidence to our next CEO! Perhaps a 4 year fixed term contract would be one solution. That would mean that the incoming Council in 2019 would automatically appoint a new CEO within 6 months of their election. There would be no costly settlement costs to pay, we would instead pay this premium through either a limited field of candidates or an enhanced salary or both. As an alternative perhaps the selection and interviews could be led and determined by a small group of people from outside any of the political parties, but who are selected in agreement with all of the parties. These people would check that the parties accept their choice and can then made this public? That would ensure that if the incoming Councillors in 2019 felt that the CEO or other senior officer was not to their liking, they could not pretend that the selection had been made politically. By the same token a similar group could be assembled if at any stage a CEO and Council Leadership did fall out. This external group could ensure that CEOs were not removed from our payroll in the same way that football managers are dispensed with by wealthy club Chairmen. After all this is Local Government, not some private members club. These are words from the Labour manifesto “Our vision is one where everyone within the community will have their opinion heard, including those with the quietest voices or the smallest pockets. A vote for Labour will help us create opportunity, fairness and power for the people of Brighton and Hove”. Perhaps we need to see these values and warm words turned into a reality for all, including those who work for the Council and those who pay their wages.