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Time to take stock before choosing Andrea Hill’s replacement

A line at the start of Patrick Butler’s Cuts Blog in the Guardian nicely sums up what happened in Suffolk yesterday — “Cuts did for Suffolk ‘virtual council’ experiment and someone had to pay the political price.”

It is a political cost. The £218,000 pay-off, plus about £18,000 for her time on gardening leave and the lawyers fees for the investigation into hotel expenses and allegations of bullying, are only the money price.

Andrea Hill will be looking for a new job, and it is time to put behind us her time as chief executive of the county council.

Mark Bee, the new political leader of the council, made it clear on BBC Look East last night that the appointment of a successor would be for the whole council, including the opposition. That is a good start.

The appointment of Andrea Hill was a politically partisan move by the former leader, Jeremy Pembroke. He also forced through the exceptionally high salary.

The real problem with Mrs Hill was that she saw her role as devising and forcing through what Patrick Butler calls a “uniquely conservative vision”. By allowing (even encouraging) her to do this Pembroke was outsourcing political responsibility.

I only came face-to-face with Andrea Hill once. It was in February this year in the schoolroom in Winston, close to Debenham. She had been invited to talk and arrived with the mandatory Power Point presentation.

After that I asked her two questions, one about double taxation which would result from her policy, and the the other on the role of the chief executive. (I wrote “her” in the previous sentence almost automatically, and have decided to leave it in.)

On the job of the chief executive (I had suggested she had moved too far from traditional political neutrality into policy initiation) her answer did not convince me.

I left the meeting saying to a friend, “I would not like to work for her” and the following day decided to revive Wordblog with the intention of shining some light on the council. I have found writing these posts satisfying. I thank Andrea Hill for the motivation she gave me.

A chief executive in local government must be able to work with politicians of any party to deliver its policies. It is not so far removed from the jobs of Whitehall mandarins as Mrs Hill maintained at that talk in Winston.

I go back long enough to remember the time when councils had clerks. Chief executives were introduced to bring in management expertise, but there is scant sign that the running of local government has substantially improved.

On Radio Suffolk today they are trailing a discussion on whether Suffolk needs a chief executive. It is a serious question. Many councils are cutting costs by sharing chief executives.

Mid Suffolk District, where I live, shares a chief executive with Babergh. It is no longer regarded as a full-time job.

I hope that Suffolk will think deeply about its structures (administrative and democratic) before appointing its new “head of paid service” which is the legally required job to be filled.

Politicians do need political support. Maybe that is something which should be considered (for opposition as well as ruling parties).

At the same time the whole political structure of committees and scrutiny at Suffolk County Council needs examining. At present it looks less than wholeheartedly democratic.

It would be better to take time, under an interim head, rather than rush into the appointment of a replacement for Andrea Hill.

Live blog: Andrea Hill to leave Suffolk County Council, confirmed

Roundup at 17.00pm


Confirmation of the departure of Andrea Hill, chief executive of Suffolk County Council came early this afternoon in a statement the council.

The meeting which confirmed the decision finished around 10am, but then it took about three hours for the statement to be agreed. Mrs Hill will receive her £218,000 salary for a year.

On bullying allegations from a whistleblower, the statement says:

Bullying and harassment allegations were robustly investigated by an independent firm of solicitors. Although it remains a concern that such a perception existed, the Committee is satisfied that there was no evidence to support those claims or that she was responsible for the death of David White (former Head of Legal Services).

And on her hotel expenses the committee concludes;

… whilst there were undoubtedly claims which, in the current climate, might not represent best use of public money, the Committee accepted that there was no dishonesty in the claims made.

In a note to editors at the end of the statement the council says, in effect, that tro have pursued the matter further would have cost taxpayers more money:

Suffolk County Council estimated that the external procedure in this case could cost well in excess of £250,000.

Having taken financial, legal and HR advice the Committee came to the view that an agreement was in the interest of both parties.

Given the constraints of the law, these terms were the best that could be achieved.


By not holding the formal disciplinary inquiry, that would be required by law to discipline a chief executive, the council has saved that quarter-of-a-million pounds. However the council has not said how much the external inquiry by socilitors Wragg & Co into the whistleblower’s allegations of bullying has cost.

The story as it unfolded during the day, including full text of the statement, is below


16.30pm

Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs has made some interesting tweets:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/RottenBoroughs/status/87898100521373696″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/RottenBoroughs/status/87899634248323072″]

16.20pm

Ipswich Spy calling for an inquiry into the applointment of Andrea Hill says: “No matter how much the ruling Tories might want this story to disappear, unless these questions are asked and answered in a public forum the voters will not forgive or forget.”

15.00pm

Terms were “the best that could be achieved”

As so often, the notes at the bottom of a statement are very instructive. In this case they suggest that the Dismissal Appeals Committee were not entirely enthusiastic about the terms that were finally agreed. Here they are:

Notes to Editors:

Mrs Hill’s annual salary is £218,592.

Mrs Hill is subject to a three month contractual notice period.

The Local Authorities (Standing Orders) England Regulations 2001 grant special employment rights to certain officers in local government (the Chief Executive, Monitoring Officer and Chief Financial Officer). Following a preliminary investigation, those rules require the appointment of an independent external assessor and a detailed examination of any allegations or proposed disciplinary action. The county council may only act in line with a recommendation made by an external assessor.

Suffolk County Council estimated that the external procedure in this case could cost well in excess of £250,000.

Having taken financial, legal and HR advice the Committee came to the view that an agreement was in the interest of both parties.

Given the constraints of the law, these terms were the best that could be achieved.

14.30pm

Back from lunch to find the county council statement has been issued. Here it is in full:

The Dismissals and Appeals Committee of Suffolk County Council has today (4 July 2011) concluded its investigation into the ‘whistleblowing’ allegations made against Chief Executive, Andrea Hill.

Bullying and harassment allegations were robustly investigated by an independent firm of solicitors. Although it remains a concern that such a perception existed, the Committee is satisfied that there was no evidence to support those claims or that she was responsible for the death of David White (former Head of Legal Services). The Committee wants to reassure staff that all allegations are treated extremely seriously.

The Committee also received a report into Mrs Hill’s expense claims during her tenure as Chief Executive. It has concluded that whilst there were undoubtedly claims which, in the current climate, might not represent best use of public money, the Committee accepted that there was no dishonesty in the claims made.

Following a lengthy discussion last Friday, and negotiations between representatives of both parties over the weekend, the county council can now confirm that Mrs Hill will be leaving her post with immediate effect.

There has been significant media attention attached to Mrs Hill which has become a distraction and both parties accept that with new political leadership of Suffolk County Council in place, it is better to allow the organisation to move forward with new managerial leadership.

The county council would like to thank Mrs Hill for all she has done over the past three years and wish her well for her future.

The total value of compensation to be paid to Mrs Hill is £218,592. This figure includes her contractual notice period.

13.45pm

Confirmation that Andrea Hill is leaving her post as Chief Executive of Suffolk County Council.

Tweets from James Illman, of the Local Government Chronicle say: “Hill expenses ‘did not rep best use of public money’ but committee accepted there was no dishonesty in the claims made..” and “Suffolk confirm Andrea Hill exit as reported by LGC earlier. Council says there was ‘no evidence’ to substantiate bullying accusations bt..”

And from Patrick Butler of the Guardian, “Suffolk: Council boss Andrea Hill gets £218k pay off. No findings of bullying or expenses abuse. Legal bill for council £250k ”

13.15pm

The Daily Mail reports, the controversial council boss who earned £75,000 a year more than the Prime Minister is believed to have resigned today.


13.05pm

Tweet from Paul Geater, political correspondent of the Archant papers in Ipswich:

[blackbirdpie url=”[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/Geates/status/87853598016413696″]

12.50pm
Interesting tweet from Private Eye

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/RottenBoroughs/status/87848089729253376″]

12.30pm

I have now seen the Local Government Chronicle story, which says:

Sources close to negotiations told LGC a deal had been struck which will see Ms Hill leave the council this month by mutual consent and be handed a pay-off believed to be around a year’s salary.

A council spokesman declined to comment, stating that the meeting was on-going and no official announcement had been drawn up.


The SGC story is behind a pay wall here. Many people working in local government will have access to the subscription service, but I am not sure if Suffolk Libraries subscribe.


12.20pm

Stories about Andrea Hill’s departure are starting to come in thick and fast.

Daily Telegraph quotes Lib Dem leader Kathy Pollard saying:

There will be a feeling of immense relief across the county.

It has been a very unhappy chapter in Suffolk’s history especially for those of us who voted against her appointment in the first place.
She introduced cuts but her position became more and more tenuous as she refused to take as pay cut herself – she was obviously not willing to share the pain with the rest of us.

The poor old Evening Star in Ipswich is still running a story headlined, Still no word on future of chief executive. It says there was still no confirmation about the future of Mrs Hill, despite some reports saying she had left the county.

It is clear that the reports saying she is going have originated in London, from political or civil service sources. Private Eye was the first with a tweet, which was followed quickly by James Illman at the Local Government Chronicle, and Andrew Sinclaire at the BBC. Neither of them are journalists likely to run the story without making their own calls to contacts.


She introduced cuts but her position became more and more tenuous as she refused to take as pay cut herself – she was obviously not willing to share the pain with the rest of us.

The poor old Evening Star in Ipswich, is still headling its story, Still no word on future of chief executive.

Other stories at Public Service,

11.48am

Rotten Boroughs, the Private Eye section on local government, has tweeted:

Re Andrea Hill, the alternative was expensive legal battle — which she claims she wd win. Cllrs persuaded payoff cheaper.

11.25am

Apparently there is still no statement from SCC. The use of the phrase “government source” by the BBC suggests leaks are coming from Whitehall, not Endeavour House, the council’s headquarters.

Ministers at the Communities department have been openly critical of Mrs Hill’s £218,000 salary which put her on a high scale than any Civil Servant other than the Cabinet Secretary.


11.10am

BBC reporting Government source saying Mrs Hill had stood down. The Suffolk CC chief executive is said to accepted a deal to leave.

BBC report links her departure to the inquiry following the death of David White, the acting head of legal services who was found hanged in Butley Woods in early April.

The make no mention of the hotel expenses which was the other strand of the inquiry.
So far there is no news from the Dismissal Appeals Committee which was to have resumed its meeting this morning, presumable to finalise the arrangements for Mrs Hill’s departure.

10.45am
[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/Jamesillman/status/87813690107240448″]

The LGC story is behind a pay wall.

Apparently her departure is by mutual consent and she will receive a year’s pay-off.

If that includes pension contributions, she will reveive well over a quarter of a million pounds.

This item will be updated as information comes in.

Suffolk libraries already among worst financed in England

Suffolk which is planning to cut spending on libraries by 30% already has one of the worst funded services in England, figures from The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy reveal.

In 2009-10 the county spend of £12.90 for each person in Suffolk was the fifth lowest among shire counties. This is £2.50 below the average.

Counties in the top quarter of the table spend nearly 50% more on their libraries than those in the bottom quarter.

The figures were provided by Guenever Pachent, the service director for culture at Suffolk County Council, in response to an information request from a library campaigner.

If the proposed cuts are made it will look as if Suffolk’s county councillors are determined to drive their library service right to the bottom of the table. I trust that is something none of them would care to boast about.

 

Big society minister hears his policy drubbed in Suffolk

Nick Hurd, the Civil Society minister, was on the receiving end yesterday when his “big Society” policies were given a serious drubbing at a conference of Suffolk voluntary groups yesterday.

He had come to the county which has been face-to-face with those ideas and rejected them. Even Craig Dearden-Phillps, who bills himself as “one of the UK’s best-know social entrepreneurs” and is a Suffolk councillor admitted to a doubt this week.

The extent of the attacks Mr Hurd faced on the “meaningless” policy which reflected the “life experiences of an elite class” is made abundantly clear in a report in today’s Evening Star.

After the meeting in Bury St Edmunds, Mr Hurd told the Star, it had been “pretty tough” and, rather lamely, “For me it was genuinely interesting to have the debate.”

And he said: “We’ve got a window of opportunity now to drive this culture change forward.”

What that means, other than that Mr Herd excels in stringing together meaningless cliches, I have no idea.

The paper quotes one speaker as saying:

Some might say that Suffolk launched itself as a flagship for your Government’s policies and principles in new ways of working, but now that battle is joined it has itself become a burning platform, masts and sails shot to pieces, holed by cannon-fire, rudderless and ripe for Captain Jack Sparrow to board and take over.

Would you encourage us, the crew, to mutiny? To gird our loins? Or abandon ship?

There are more robust comments in the newspaper’s report.

In Suffolk people have been thinking very hard about localism, community participation, and big society. It was being forced upon them by the county council’s “enabling” policy (aka the New Strategic Direction) which would have resulted in giving up direct running of almost all services.

Under intense pressure from the people of the county, that policy is now being rowed back under a new leader, although quite how far is still unclear.

Travel for young people, school crossing patrols and libraries have been among the most contentious issues. Even people who were in favour of communities taking over the running of services in principle, expressed severe doubts about whether it was possible, particularly in a time of financial stringency.

Craig Dearden-Phillips, a proponent of a big society and a Lib Dem Suffolk county councillor, has recognised limits to community management this week.

At the weekend a horse bolted and one person was killed and eight others seriously injured at the Nowton Park County Fair, organised by St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

He writes on his blog:

I felt glad the state was there to deal with this. Yes, it is up to the council to deal properly with the aftermath, to oversee the inquiry and, possibly, to pay out compensation. Imagine if this park had been handed over to a half-ready community group with no real experience in event management.

I have been one of the people hammering away for this park to be given to the community to operate as a charity or social enterprise. I am now not so sure that this was the right idea. In truth, we’re not ready.

Whether Mr Hurd’s visit to Suffolk will have done anything to encourage the Government to reconsider its policy, I doubt.

The political calculation is going to be whether a U-tun by David Cameron or serious failures by outsourced community projects (inevitable and surely marked in red on the Government’s risk assessment) would do more damage to the prime minister’s credibility.