A critical audit report. A new chief executive. A confidential management consultant’s report. All three coming to the same conclusion. Those running the organisation and many who work within it ,” think they are too good to slip into special measures “ . The organisation has been coasting for a number of years and is about to be found out. The leadership were surprised at the criticism and in truth thought it unduly harsh, failing to take due account of local circumstances and ignoring some recent progress.
Partly due to their size, partly their history members and officers considered the organisation to be the natural leader regionally. A view not shared by their neighbours. A stable authority, traditionally managed on a broad political consensus, now having to come to terms with internal divisions.
The story here is not that the chief executive failed to turn things round but that having improved performance and got the budget under control the leadership decided they didn’t like the new management style. Told they were standing on a burning platform they felt forced into a series of decisions and a way of carrying them out that was not to their liking. They wanted success but they didn’t like their new image characterised by their negative relationship with the voluntary and community sector. Many members held posts on the boards of voluntary groups and had long standing close relations with community groups in their wards. They didn’t like the bad publicity around closing local libraries, mothballing museums and selling off council land popular with dog walkers and ramblers. They definitely didn’t like with drawing funding from voluntary groups. They didn’t like the new “positive” relationship with their NHS trusts, “negotiated” by the LA’s chief executive, which made it clear they were a junior partner, with little or no influence, but committed to funding anything that reduced bed blocking.
In summary they didn’t like way the chief executive did things. They didn’t like feeling they were being bounced into decisions characterised by the chief executive’s frequent description of the authority standing on a burning platform.
They didn’t like the pragmatic management style even though it proved effective. They didn’t like the brutal and unpopular budget cuts though they recognised spending had to be reduced.
So now that the risk of sliding into special measures had been removed, now that the unpleasant stuff had been executed they wanted rid of the chief executive.
A new senior management team would be appointed one that was more creative about with the emphasis on generating income rather than defending cuts, with more attractive strategies which would be popular with constituents. A chief executive who was more astute with the media and who could mount a charm offensive capable of regaining public confidence and winning back the support of the voluntary sector and generally making members feel better about the council and excited about its future.
We have of course been here before.
Blair McPherson former director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk