This week the leader of the City Council, Councillor Warren Morgan has posted a video on the Council website explaining about his desire to recruit a new Chief Executive for the City. Along with his video there are the usual elements of a website invitation to apply for a job including a job description and person specification. Neither the video nor the documents refer to the history of the post or of the Council itself or the need to break with the past, but all credible candidates will be acutely aware that the CEO will be succeeding 4 previous permanent CEOs, each one of whom left office unexpectedly. They will also know that including this Council, the last 4 city administrations have been minority Councils, each of which has ‘struggled’ to work collaboratively with other parties which has not been easy for the Council Officers or for some of the services that have worked closely with the Council.
In terms of the recent CEOS, the first of these was David Panter who took up his post in October 2001. Prior to David there had been a long serving CEO and a majority Council which was far from perfect particularly in its final term, but nevertheless had been largely stable. Ahead of his first day, David was interviewed in the Guardian which stated:
“The reality of the job is that Mr Panter will have to lift the council out of the doldrums. It has been a tough year in the south coast city, with an acrimonious debate among councillors over the merits of electing a powerful executive city mayor, the resignation of leader Lynette Gwyn-Jones and a critical report from the local government Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA).”
Mr Panter left after 3 years and Alan McCarthy was appointed by a minority Labour Council. Alan was sacked 4 years later by a Conservative Council who appointed John Barradell. John left in the early stages of a Green administration and the Greens appointed Penny Thompson whose role ended this Summer at the hands of the Labour Council. Inevitably there have also been a small number of temporary CEOs for the city during this period including the current incumbent, Geoff Raw, Alan McCarthy and Alex Bailey.
I wrote in June about the decision to sack Penny Thompson 5 weeks into the administration and asked Warren to explain why this decision had been taken, leaving the City vulnerable to organisational challenges whilst a protracted recruitment process took place. I also argued for the Council to ensure that the next CEO is appointed in a manner that reduces the likelihood of this historical pattern being repeated any longer. That would depend on a fully collaborative and accountable interview process involving all political parties and also local residents in a manner that is open and clear. In this way future administrations would know that their CEO is someone who they helped to select and that local taxpayers know this too, it would also enable the new CEO to work with boldness, knowing that their appointment was supported across the city. This would build on the wise attempt by Penny Thompson to seek reassurance that both Labour and Conservative groups supported her appointment. Sadly their private assurances did not prove adequate in public once the Labour Party had been elected. We therefore need a much more robust approach. The alternative would have been to advertise this post as being a fixed 4 year term ensuring all were clear and that there need not be any costly termination packages. As taxpayers we cannot be expected to fund further repetitious cycles of our history. Over 14 years we have had 4 minority Councils and are about to appoint our fifth CEO. The ongoing cost of the recruitment processes, let alone the lack of consistent senior leadership within the Council is too high a price for the City to pay any longer and I hope that Warren or one of his colleagues will shortly announce how he intends to reassure us that he is not committing us to a repeat in Autumn 2019.