Not a great few weeks to be a Council Chief executive. Variously we are told that their exit packages need a review (Denham), their pensions should be capped (Rooney) and, never one to be outdone, Eric Pickles thinks they should be abolished.
At the same time they are variously under fire for daring to suggest that counting votes on a Friday made more sense than the current system and most recently for saying that a third party should look at their employers’ 0% pay offer.
One can only speculate why it is open season on this particular group of public servants. They are not the highest paid, many universities and Agencies pay more. They cannot exercise the power of many other public sector chiefs since, uniquely, they do not have a vote on the council’s executive whereas their health and education colleagues can have a vote on their respective boards. Perhaps the only thing that singles them out for Parliamentarians is that they are easy to get at. Councils are not popular and local politicians are not universally approved of by their Westminster colleagues. So an attack on Chiefs' conditions or worse still, on their integrity, is seen as a soft option.
Some of my more cynical acquaintances take the view that since Parliament has totally failed to come to grips with the nationalised banks and their bonus culture, and since MPs are so mired in their own expenses scandals, cheap shots at public servants are all that some MPs have left in their armoury, but I am sure that cannot be right!
My lack of cynicism at such times has now been more than rewarded. Yesterday a senior Parliamentarian went out of his way to be complimentary about Chief Executives. His answer to a direct question is worth repeating in full:
"I think in the end it has got to be for a local council to make a decision how much they pay their chief executive and to justify that to local taxpayers. What people object to is not having a really first class chief executive – and you can see in some councils a good council team with a really excellent chief executive can make a massive difference. They’re not here today but some of the unsung heroes of local government are the chief executives working in conjunction with their locally elected members."
“Unsung heroes?” Not a phrase often used about senior managers of any sort. And who is this creature of all earthly virtue, who was moved to such praise? Step forward George Osborne Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Given his political prominence I can assume we will see this widely reported in the Sunday Times, The Telegraph and the Mail. Perhaps there will be a supportive quote from those most thoughtful of commentators the taxpayers alliance. Well, probably not, but at least Chiefs now know that somebody loves them.