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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life

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.

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  1. Andrea Hill and Suffolk Smugness. « Tendance Coatesy says

    […] Andrew Grant Adamson, more thoughtfully suggests that it now time to take stock of Andrea Hill’s reign – here. […]