The “irretrievable breakdown” of the relationship between Suffolk County Council’s chief executive, Andrea Hill, and opposition leader, Kathy Pollard, while not surprising, is a serious rift.
The Evening Star reports on its front page today:
Opposition leader Kathy Pollard wrote a blog in which she said the county council’s chief Andrea Hill had become an object of hate on the streets of Suffolk and added “if I were her I’d get out before I was pushed.”
At a meeting Mrs Hill and Mrs Pollard had a “forthright” discussion about the blog, which resulted in Mrs Pollard saying that their relationship had “irretrievably broken down.”
The county’s communications department did not want to comment on what was seen as a “political” attack on the chief executive.
However, the Conservative administration said it was wrong for a politician to attack a council officer who was not in a position to answer back.
A council chief executive has a responsibility for ensuring that both cabinet and backbench councillors receive all the facilities and officer support necessary to fulfil their respective roles (source: Department of Communities and Local Government).
Kathy Pollard wrote on her blog on March 9, after an Evening Star revelation about training costs at SCC: “If I were her I’d get out before I was pushed.” She referred to two blogs which had called for Ms Hill to resign.
Since then the two women met for what should have been a regular quarterly meeting. Afterwards Cllr Pollard told the Evening Star:
We had a very forthright discussion. She said she was not happy with my blog and I said I was reflecting the views of the people of Suffolk and that people were talking to me about this all the time….
I said I thought our relationship had irretrievably broken down.
There are conventions that council officers are politically impartial and that politicians do not attack them. Those two conventions seem to be at the heart of this row.
As background, it is illuminating to read what Cllr Pollard wrote in her blog of February 23. She then said that the decision, in March 2008, to appoint Ms Hill was taken by a five-person selection committee at which three Conservatives voted for the appointment. Cllr Pollard and the Labour leader voted against. Opposition, to the appointment and salary, was carried into the council chamber when the appointment was ratified.
A statement from the Conservative cabinet to the Evening Star today says:
We are all aware that Cllr Pollard is engaging in political point-scoring in the run up to the local elections.
To do so by criticising council officers — who, as she knows, are prevented by protocol from answering back — shows up their complete lack of actual policies to move Suffolk forward.
I have not asked Cllr Pollard to comment but, for the record, at the last full council meeting she proposed an amendment to the Conservative budget which would have kept all libraries open, maintained school crossing patrols, and retained funding for youth clubs and the eXplore card, among other things. The money would have come from alternative savings and reserves.