Scrapping chiefs could create a dangerous void
CHIEF executives of councils up and down the land will have blanched at several of the pronouncements of Communities and Local Government Secretary of State Eric Pickles since he took office.
His heavyweight build adds to the impression that he could be a political bruiser and he says and does little to dilute that image.
He, more than anybody in the Coalition Government, has sought to wage a war of words – and spending cuts – on local authorities.
Mr Pickles knows that, for years, councils have had a reputation for "wasting money".
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In many cases it is not deserved but it is a line trotted out by so many people, wherever in the UK they live – "it's the council wasting our money again" whenever anything is undertaken with which they do not personally agree.
So the minister knows that he is sowing his seed on fertile ground when he berates councils for waste and demands drastic measures.
Unlike most similar campaigns over the years, however, Mr Pickles has put the spotlight of attention on the men and women at the very top of local authorities.
Two years ago, he called on chief executives on more than £150,000 to cut their pay by 5%.
For those on more than £200,000, he said the cut should be 10%.
And recently he said councils should consider axing the posts altogether to help meet the spending targets which he and his cabinet colleagues have imposed.
Amber Valley Borough Council latched on to this one and dumped its chief executive, Peter Carney, who earned over £100,000 a year and had been with the authority for 27 years.
That has inevitably fuelled demands from taxpayers for other councils in Derbyshire to follow suit.
But let us not get carried away. It is a big enough step to replace the chief executive of any multi-million-pound organisation; it is a massive one to do away with the post completely.
A chief executive acquires a working knowledge of all the areas of his organisation, someone who can enjoy an overview of the services so essential in our daily lives.
Remove that and an obvious danger of rival departments jousting for a bigger share of resources would be created.
There may be some councils, like Amber Valley, which feel they have a structure in place, or which could be adjusted, to cope.
Fair enough. It's a brave step and good luck to them – if not to Mr Carney.
But others will be justified in recognising that experienced and highly-skilled management does not come cheap.
Erode the salary level too far and candidates will have no hesitation in heading for the fatter cheques of the private sector.
Do away completely with their chief and there is the danger of creating a headless monster of greater inefficiency.