Political Promise

Obviously a Challenge Too Far

In David Brownsey-Joyce on December 6, 2010 at 3:48 pm

News that Camden and Islington Councils would not be pressing ahead with plans to share a chief executive and senior management structure came as a disappointment to Camden resident, David Brownsey-Joyce.

 It was tragic news that Camden and Islington Councils disclosed at the end of last week that they would not be pressing ahead with plans to share a chief executive and senior management structure at a time when local authorities must explore all opportunities to improve efficiency in the services they deliver.

This marks the end of one of the most ambitious shared service projects to be announced in local government over the last few years. The idea was simple, John Foster, chief executive of Islington Council, would retire in May 2011, Moira Gibb, chief executive of Camden Council, would then take control of the running of both councils. They would have both retained their elected councillors and senior management posts would have been merged where appropriate.

Whether it would have been a success or not we will now never know, as the idea was rejected as being too expensive in terms of initial start-up costs over the first two years, with savings only being made after three or four years.

Each of the councils need to save around £100 million over the next four years, they could have thrown the dice and seen what would happen with a unified management team taking a more broad approach to problems than they currently enjoy. Seeing what worked in one borough and implementing such process in the other.

This won’t happen now, instead both councils will look at shared services but on an individual department basis, identifying where cuts can be made and positions shared. This will be a less ambitious project, and how far it goes will depend on the local government grants that Camden and Islington receive, as well as how much risk both councils wish to take. Given that they have decided to do a full u-turn over the shared management idea I cannot see them taking many risks at all.

As a resident this is deeply disappointing given the state of the public purse. We all know that cuts are coming. Everyone has an opinion on where these cuts should come from and how deep they should be. We want to see leadership from our local authorities. We want to be able to see them moving forward.

Instead what we get now for my neighbours in Islington is a new recruitment drive for a new chief executive, ready to take over when John Foster retires. They will be taking over during a period of change and not only will have to learn the council, it’s structure and the residents it support, but also make decisions on how to go about delivering the cuts. They better get themselves a superman, but you can’t have ours, Moira Gibbs stays at Camden.

I suppose I should be thankful in a way because it means I will have a council that is served by managers that are totally focused on my borough’s needs, but I can’t get past the idea that when everything was on the line, the councillors for my borough folded without even trying.

If they fail to experiment how can I expect them to guide my council out of this recession? How can I trust them to make big decisions when they have shown they are not capable of following them through?

It’s ok to fail sometimes, everyone fails and people accept that. We expect our councils to do their job and deliver services, we expect them to be inventive and try new things where it can lead to improvements. If you get it right we will applaud you, if you get it wrong we’ll ask what are you going to do to get it right? But don’t just give up.

That’s weak and during a recession we don’t need weak leadership, we need strong leadership.

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