Friday 14 September 2012

From Leader to MEP?

A while back I wrote about a rumour that one NCC's senior politicians was planning an exit from local government to be a Labour candidate for the European Parliament.

Well, my source has been busily checking and I now feel confident enough to suggest that you go out and bet five of your British pounds* on seeing Jon Collins' name on the ballot paper when we next go to vote in 2014. I don't think the party selection process is finished yet but the word is that JoCo is a 'shoo-in'.

This will have a marked effect on NCC, almost certainly for the better. It may well mean that the council has a better chance of attracting high quality candidates to be Jane Todd's successor as Collins' attitude to a succession of Chief Execs resulted in Nottingham gaining 'poisoned chalice' status among chief exec circles.

So who will be the one to wear the 'Je suis le maire' t-shirt next? Obvious guess would be Graham Chapman but I wouldn't be surprised if David Mellen has a go at the top job. Jane Urquart shouldn't be discounted, one of the few areas that Nottingham has a good reputation in is transport and at least some of that must be down to her.

A wildcard entry might be Alex Norris. Despite never having had a proper job (he was Labour's political assistant before becoming a councillor) he has that Tory-lite smarm and all important 'Progress' membership that seems to give people the skills to shin up the Labour Party greasy pole. Straight in as a Portfolio Holder, that must have really pissed off his more longstanding Basford colleague Cat Arnold who's been stuck in Executive Assistant purgatory for years.

Very exciting.

*NCCLols takes no responsibility for the betting shop manager looking at you with incredulity and going "you what?", before taking your money and you never seeing it again because of the above turning out to be completely untrue. Caveat emptor, on your own heads peeps.

(H/T Lord Beestonia. See his blog in the Nottingham(ish) blogroll on the right)

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Jane Todd Departs the Plastic Throne

So. Farewell then. Jane Todd*...

As you might have heard, Jane Todd has become the first Nottingham City Council Chief Exec in around 10 years to depart for reasons unconnected with JoCo's megalomania. Joking apart, she's going so that she can recover from an operation to remove a form of brain tumour which is seriously nasty stuff. I genuinely hope that she continues to improve and returns to full health asap.

I'm no fan of hers professionally but neither am I particular a hater. There will be puff pieces in the local media but we don't really do puff pieces over here. So what follows is, I hope, a small analysis of Ms Todd's record in the context of the rather vexed history of the NCC Chief Exec post.

As many know, the Chief Executive Post at NCC has not had a happy recent history. Ms Todd is the forth postholder in about 10 years, with the three predecessors leaving with large payouts. Much of this was blamed on JoCo's apparent inability to get on with his Chief Execs, a point of view supported by the infamous Hardmoor Associates report. Ms Todd's immediate predecessor, Michael Frater, did not necessarily have a reputation as being a particularly nice man but he is known for rooting out corruption. Some might wonder whether his rather swift departure and huge payout, even by NCC standards, might be connected with that.

So in swans Jane, initially as an 'interim' 'consultant' chief exec. She'd been a senior officer at the council before and was generally regarded to have kept links with the local Labour Party establishment. She wasn't expected to rock the boat and no-one was surprised when she got the job on a permanent basis in December 2008.

It wasn't long before she started fulfilling her promise. When the Hardmoor report was leaked she leapt into action with a somewhat cringeworthy defence of her political colleagues. She deftly sidestepped the massive elephant in the room that the chief suspect behind all the trouble was still in position while trying to convince us all that there was nothing to see here. I'm afraid I thought that she made rather a fool of herself.

A quick pause here. I think there can be absolutely no doubt that Ms Todd is an extremely able woman. You don't get to inhabit the very senior positions in both local and central government without that being the case. And I also have no doubt that she deserves all the plaudits she has received from the top NCC politicians because she has, without a shadow of a doubt, delivered everything that they could have asked for her.

With that in mind, the list of her achievements on first reading doesn't look over generous. Maybe that's because her main achievements can't really be stated out loud and, while JoCo and the politburo have much to thank her for, it's less clear that the ordinary Joe and Joesephine of Nottingham should feel so grateful.

Forgive me for another digression. Essentially, local government is based partly on a separation between the political side i.e. the councillors and the paid staff i.e. the officers. For the most part ( there are exceptions e.g. political assistants), the officers are supposed to remain politically neutral. The politicians' job is to decide policy, the officers' job is to deliver it, without fear or favour.

That sounds simple but difficulties emerge when the politicians expect the officers to join in with some of the more political aspects of public life. The Hardmoor report touched on this. One of the tasks that the head of paid staff has to negotiate is to keep this separation and to support those officers below her/him in doing so too.

Let's have a look at the 'achievement' described as 'effective partnership working with Notts Police has contributed to major reductions in crime'. A big chunk of this 'major reduction in crime' is the joint decision by NCC and Notts Police that the worst local authority housing housing scandal since Dame Shirley Porter was doing the rounds wasn't really a crime at all and the resultant massive cover-up. Now most of the blame deserves to be laid firmly at the feet of the politicians but the papering over of the cracks could not have been achieved without some serious input from senior paid staff. As the head of the paid staff, and with a scandal that goes to the heart of the authority's reputation, that puts Jane Todd firmly in the spotlight as an accessory after the fact.

So, looking at what we know, including largely circumstantial evidence, reinforced by the findings by Hardmoor Associates, what I find myself concluding is that Jane Todd's predecessors did make some attempt to keeep the political separate from the officers but Ms Todd was less fussy. It doesn't take a full blown conspiracy theorist to suspect that is the chief reason why she and JoCo worked so well together and her valiant defence of his past battles supports this. Like I said, she has done everything the politicians could have hoped for. Whether she did everything WE could have hoped for remains very much open to question. The two are not the same thing.

So to summarise, I'm glad Ms Todd is still alive, because her illness I'm sure could well have been life threatening, and I hope she carries on in rude health for many years to come. But I'm not that sad that she's left her post to tell the truth. I think she got too far into bed with the dodgy politicians, forgetting that her role was to deliver the policy, not the personal agendas.

Of course, the next thing to worry about is who the hell we're going to get next. There were many rumours that Nottingham was seen as a bit of a poisoned chalice in Chief Executive circles and that's probably not gone away. Luckily the bunch on the next tier down appear sufficiently supine so I predict an internal appointment.

*Legally required intro for article about anybody leaving, passing on etc.