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A decision on Brighton and Hove's new leader needs to be made – and fast
Just casually looking at Brighton and Hove City Council , you might not think anything was wrong.
Bins are emptied, streets are cleaned and parking tickets issued in the same way as normal.
But ask anyone working for the council at a senior level how things are and you will be met with sighs of exasperation and much rolling of eyeballs.
The same applies to anyone dealing with the council such as business and trades union leaders. Their worry is that Brighton and Hove is drifting rudderless when it should be full of drive and innovation.
Politically the city is run by a bright but naïve Green administration, full of pet projects which are often at odds with what people want, and unable to command a majority in the council.
Administratively, chief executive John Barradell has just announced he is returning to work in London after presiding over a reorganisation that has been disastrous.
It led to directors, most of them able and well regarded, being dismissed at great expense amid much regret from their colleagues.
In their place, four new directors were hired on inflated salaries and already three of them are leaving. No one knows what they are supposed to be doing, probably including themselves, and they have impenetrable titles which give little clue.
Mr Barradell called it strategic intelligent commissioning but the strategy is unclear, the intelligence lacking and the commissioning almost non-existent.
It was supposed to save £30 million over three years but it is difficult to identify specific savings, if any, at all.
Now it will have to be looked at again with the departure of three directors and the fact that the Greens never wanted it in the first place.
There is a growing feeling in the business community that the city needs to pause before rushing headlong into another recruitment process.
Certainly city leaders need to avoid repeating the crass kind of ad for the strategic directors which said: “Status Quo supporters need not apply.” This resulted in an apology to the group plus its fan club and was generally seen to have made Brighton look foolish.
The administrative chaos comes at a bad time when the entire European economy, including that of the UK, teeters on the brink of collapse.
Brighton may look bustling and busy but its own economy is vulnerable with few large companies and an unhealthy reliance on a shrinking public sector.
Barradell’s departure after only three years follows a chapter of accidents with chief executives. There was a time when men like Howard Longden in Hove and Reg Morgan in Brighton (both finance officers originally) devoted their lives to the authority and were widely admired.
Glynn Jones who helped unite the two councils, used charm, tact and skill to push through major projects, aided by a stable political administration of one colour.
After he retired, there was the brief reign of David Panter. He was followed by Alan McCarthy, the prime example of a local boy making good. Able and personable, McCarthy was a good leader but sadly fell foul of the then Tory minority administration and left.
Brighton and Hove City Council is the largest employer and crucial to the resort’s success. It badly needs another top class chief executive with a clear system to run.
What about sharing one with another authority, either permanently or as an interim measure for a year to 18 months until the city sees where it is going?
Increasingly the Government is pushing for partnership working, such as local enterprise partnerships and there is a duty to co-operate in the National Planning Policy Framework.
Several local documents make great play of working with neighbours such as the City Plan and the Economic Strategy.
Under the deft guidance of Ian Lowrie, nearby Adur and Worthing Councils co-operated by combining services and appointing him as joint chief executive.
A similar arrangement between Brighton and Hove’s Green administration and that of a neighbour would save money and be a clear message that they do things differently for the best of reasons.
It would also give them a breathing space to sort out the roles and responsibilities of the senior management team, decide on their business model and articulate how they will realise their aspiration to be the greenest city in the UK.
For me Lewes would have been an obvious choice because of its many connections with the city including a long boundary and many people who commute between the two areas.
It also has as its chief executive Jenny Rowlands who did a good job for the city when she ran the environment department.
An example of her undoubted skills has been the programme to improve Newhaven with great progress being made.
But Coun Kitcat told The Argus: “The feedback I am getting from other councillors is that, while they are keen to do more shared services, Brighton and Hove is a unique place that deserves its own chief executive.”
For me, a decisive decision needs to be made – and fast.
Otherwise the danger is that the city will appoint another short-term chief executive at great expense and slip further into an administrative black hole.
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