Agenda item

Appointment of Chief Executive (Agenda Item 5)

Report of the Director of Corporate Resources.  

Minutes:

The Leader reminded Members of the background to this report.   Although the shared services negotiations with South Norfolk District Council had fallen through, Breckland had continued to look for alternative partners to work with.  This was perceived as the best way forward in terms of saving money and achieving the strongest senior management team.  

 

Bearing in mind the seriousness and likely depth of cuts arising form the government’s Autumn Spending Review, Breckland was keen to remain at the forefront of looking to mitigate costs and reduce internal overhead costs, whilst also maintaining its level of service to the public.

 

Negotiations with South Holland District Council had been extremely positive and decisions had been taken at Breckland’s Cabinet meeting (20 July) and the Staff Appointments Panel (26 July), to recommend to Council the appointment of Terry Huggins as Joint Chief Executive for both authorities.  

 

Whilst later confirming that he was not speaking directly against the proposal, a Member took the opportunity to comment that it seemed somewhat strange that the Council, which had been so opposed to the Unitary option on grounds of governing at a very much more local level, should now be so strongly in favour of sharing services.   After the breakdown of talks with South Norfolk, the latest proposal almost seemed an act of desperation, and he was somewhat intrigued and puzzled at this turn of events.

 

The Leader explained that, with regard to the Unitary proposal, this had been opposed as it would have resulted in an unwieldy and distant centre of local government, which would have had difficulty representing the varied communities across Norfolk.   Whereas the proposed shared services arrangements would ensure that full democratic responsibility was tied much closer to local communities. 

 

He also added that there was no sense of desperation in the proposal to have a shared Chief Executive with South Holland.  On the contrary, due to the uncertainties which inevitably surrounded such negotiations, Breckland had been involved with discussions about this matter with potential partners even during its talks with South Norfolk.   This was a practical and sensible approach in order to ensure that Breckland achieved the best possible partnership arrangements.

 

Another Member endorsed the point that in the current economic climate, shared service arrangements were arguably the best way of protecting services for Breckland residents, whilst keeping local democratic accountability, and he commended the Leader and Cabinet for their positive work in this area.

 

A Member asked if the proposed Joint Chief Executive appointment, would be the beginning of a slippery slope in terms of sharing investments and savings, as well as joint governance arrangements. 

 

In response, the Leader confirmed that, if adopted after further consultation and scrutiny, then the proposed Memorandum of Understanding would cover work towards further shared service workings and efficiencies (along the same principle as Breckland’s arrangements with the Anglia Revenue Partnership). 

 

He emphasised, however, that the proposals before Council did not involve making financial investments as such, but rather investing in services where considered appropriate.  Nor would it change the status of Breckland and South Holland, which would remain two distinctive Local Authorities.   Both would aim to maintain, or even improve, the services delivered to their communities, and by streamlining and sharing some services, benefits should feed through in both districts. 

 

The Leader of the Labour Group said that in the current economic climate it was incumbent upon everyone to try to reduce budgets responsibly.   The shared services route was an interesting way forward, and he hoped it would be successful. 

 

He did, however, seek assurance that there would be full consultation and scrutiny before any more detailed proposals were taken through Cabinet to Council. 

 

In response, the Leader confirmed that all financial aspects would be closely monitored, and that Members would be kept fully informed throughout the process. 

 

A Member asked for confirmation that work on the Memorandum of Understanding would be undertaken by officers from both Councils involved.  

 

The Leader said that he could not comment on what South Holland might choose to do.   He could, however, confirm that at their Council meeting the previous evening they had agreed to go forward with the principle of shared management in order to enable this project to go forward.

 

The Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission gave a categoric assurance that there would be thorough scrutiny as the process went forward.  He added that he and the Chairman of the Audit Committee had met with their counterparts from South Holland District Council earlier in the week.  This had been an initial step towards deciding a joint scrutiny process, in the event that they got the go-ahead after both Council meetings.  At this stage he envisaged proceeding very much along the lines they had started with South Norfolk i.e. a Joint Scrutiny Panel.   Given the timeframes involved, they were aware that they would need to press forward urgently with this work.

 

RESOLVED

 

1)                 To suspend the recruitment process for Breckland Council’s Chief Executive and approve the recommendation from the Staff Appointments Panel to appoint Terry Huggins as Chief Executive and Head of Paid Service in a joint arrangement with South Holland District Council.

 

1)                 To reinstate Mr Mark Stokes as Deputy Chief Executive from 12 August 2010 and to note that he will continue as Electoral Registration Officer and Returning Officer.

 

2)                 Authority to be given to the Leader of the Council, in his role as Chairman of the Staff Appointment Panel, to negotiate and subsequently enter into an agreement with South Holland District Council for the supply of Mr Huggins’ services as joint Chief Executive of the two authorites.

 

3)                 That officer resources be released to enable more detailed proposals to be worked up and brought to a future Cabinet meeting to approve an integrated shared management structure and a Memorandum of Understanding covering the joint working arrangements.

 

In closing discussion on this item, the Leader took the opportunity, warmly endorsed by Members, to formally thank Mark Stokes for the good work he had done since taking the reins as the Interim Chief Executive at the end of June.

 

Mr Terry Huggins was then invited into the meeting room.

 

The Chairman, Leader and Members then welcomed Terry Huggins as their new Chief Executive. 

 

Mr Huggins expressed his thanks in the trust and confidence placed in him as the new Chief Executive of Breckland Council.   He said that it was a great privilege and honour to lead Breckland, which had the reputation of being a respected, well run and business-like Local Authority, in the forefront of local government.     His main aim would be to support and assist Members to maintain and strengthen this reputation.

 

He then gave a short presentation, outlining his approach to the role of Joint Chief Executive across Breckland and South Holland District Councils.   Key points included:

 

  • That, as with any Local Authority, there was considerable investment in the senior management tier.   In the current climate, it was imperative to ensure that maximum efficiencies were achieved, whilst maintaining the most efficient and effective senior management team possible.

 

  • He wanted to reassure everyone and confirm that under the one senior management team it would be possible for each District Council to remain distinct and independent, with its own identity and direct local democratic accountability.

 

  • That the joint senior management team would be part of a journey towards further efficiency savings.   Work would be undertaken to see if it would be possible for shared service arrangements to be implemented in other areas too.    

 

He said that the idea of joint management and shared services was a relatively new concept.  Various other councils across the country were already joined as Unitary Authorities, or in two-tier arrangements, with others increasingly looking into the possibility of shared services, at least at senior management level.  Breckland and South Holland were therefore in the forefront of the latter option, but not alone. 

 

The approach, which had been only informally discussed thus far, was along the lines of maintaining three functional blocks covering the various internal and external services.  Traditionally these services were run by each Council within their own regional boundaries.   But the benefits from careful implementation of shared services could be gleaned without compromising each Council’s desire to care for its own regional issues in terms of economy, environment and social infrastructure etc..

 

Thus by sharing expertise, whilst maintaining separate identities and with each Council essentially retaining its own organisational governance and committee structure, it would be possible to establish some common ground and achieve solid efficiencies.  Open and transparent local democratic accountability could be maintained throughout this process.

 

·                    In terms of timetable, he said that they would aim to have an agreed structure in place by the end of the current financial year, with full implementation during the following one. 

 

·                    He did not see himself as a project manager but as Chief Executive of Breckland.  His role would involve being a strong advocate for Breckland, leading and supporting staff and Members, as appropriate, and helping to deliver Breckland’s messages and services across the district. 

 

·                    From a practical perspective, the fact that he was in a shared role would mean that there would need to be an element of compromise in terms of daily delivery.   Essentially, he would undertake all the usual duties of a Chief Executive, but logistics meant that the Deputy Chief Executive would be asked to participate and deputise at some meetings, or handle some of the more detailed work with senior managers, etc..  Mr Huggins added that he would, of course, always aim to prioritise Cabinet and Council meetings.  He would take an active interest in managing performance of the Council, and would ensure that, as far as practically possible, he was always contactable. 

 

·                    Finally, he stressed the need to continue the conversation.   As the concept of shared Chief Executives and senior management was relatively new, there was no blueprint and it would be imperative to maintain a close dialogue in order to ensure the best return for everyone from the new arrangements.

 

·                    In response to a question, he said that Spalding was the main centre of the South Holland District, which largely comprised flat fenland.   Its economy was mainly concerned with agriculture, including food processing and the various logistics involved with this.  Key concerns for South Holland included flooding and drainage issues.   It was largely a low wage/low skill economy, and there had been a sizeable influx of central European workers over recent years. 

 

South Holland was a very ambitious Local Authority, controlled by a strong Conservative group.  It aspired to be like Breckland, in terms of how it was run and its forward-thinking, businesslike and innovative approach.   Indeed South Holland had recently formed a company with another Local Authority to deliver some services. 

 

The Leader of the Labour Group welcomed the new Chief Executive and asked how he proposed to deal with the logistics of being head of two distant offices. 

 

In response, the Chief Executive, explained that he would be looking to explore new ways of working which would mean that he would not always have to be physically present.   As an example, he said that Capita, based here in Dereham, were currently processing planning applications for the Isle of Wight.    Video conferencing, other IT arrangements, etc, were all areas which could be investigated further. 

 

Initially he planned to spend more time in Dereham than Spalding, in order to familiarise himself with Breckland.   He would therefore aim to work three full days here, and two in Spalding.   He explained that his contract meant that his place of employment would be either Spalding or Dereham, i.e. he would not be paid for his travel time, and would effectively only clock-on upon arrival each day. 

 

Finally, in response to another question, he confirmed that his terms of employment had not included any commitment regarding his length of tenure as Joint Chief Executive.

 

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