There has been much media speculation this week concerning the departure of Chief Executives. Unfortunately the resignation of three high profile Chiefs, who all left for different and perfectly reasonable reasons, has led commentators to the view that there is a “crisis”. There is not, but there is a problem.
Council Chief Executives have had an unprecedented year of attacks, both in the media and from parliamentarians who really ought to know better. Whilst chiefs expect to be questioned about their professional views, many of these attacks have been wholly personal. This has led a few to question their chosen career.
Next year the pension rules change in such a way that many will not be able to access an early retirement in the near future, unless they do so this year. Again this has led a few to consider leaving. A good number are now of a pensionable age and will be standing down and a further number are clear that their “face will not fit” after next year’s elections, or at least that is what they are being told by a selection of local politicians.
Taken separately these issues will merely continue the already too high attrition rate of Chiefs; taken together we may be looking at a truly alarming rate of departure. This would always be of concern, but it comes at a time when head-hunters are reporting that the pool of Directors who wish to step up to the Chief role, is not increasing, with many suggesting that it is the media battering that this job now attracts as part of the reason.
What is definitely not the case is that senior colleagues are looking at the parlous state of the public purse and concluding that this is a good time to go. Whilst no-one is relishing the prospect of public spending cuts. Chiefs gathering at the SOLACE conference in Brighton recently were clearly up for the challenge, and seeing this period as a time when good public sector management must come to the fore. But we still face a problem if many do leave, and candidates are hard to find.
Councillors must be very thoughtful about their senior manager needs and their recruitment and retention strategies. SOLACE needs to be very focused on support for existing Chiefs, but equally on encouraging and supporting other colleagues, who should be aspiring to this role.