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Sunday, 30 November 2008

No overall control

1. In 1994 I invited the leaders of Hertfordshire County Council's three main parties and their Chief Executive to talk about how they were handling the challenge of running the council when no party had an overall majority. John Metcalf speaks of the problem, in a hung council, of getting predictability into the decision-making process rather than
"... leaving it to an alliance at the last minute in the Council because not only does that make it difficult for us, it also, I think, makes it difficult for the officers and the structure of the Council, that they don’t know early on what - which - decision is going to come out, which way to bend things, and so on. OK, on the whole, we’ve found them helpful and co-operative in trying to give an early indication of where - which - way we are going."
Those in the film are (L to R) Chris White, Leader of Lib Dems, John Metcalfe, Labour Leader, Brian Briscoe, Chief Executive and Robert Gordon, Conservative leader. 2. Where there is a clear majority administration, how should officers work with opposition politicians? In UK local government a manager's duty is to the whole council. In the extract below, Lin Homer, Chief Executive of Suffolk County Council, talks with Councillor Sue Sida-Lockett, leader in 2000 of the county's Conservative opposition. Sue asks Lin how she deals with being given information that she might "quite wish to share with everybody else" but which she can't "because I wouldn't be happy with it". Lin argues that a local government officer should be able "work with all members while driving one set of members' agendas harder and faster...". Two people of integrity discuss the challenge of judging what information an officer should and not share with other members across party lines - and how sometimes you get it wrong. [Lin Homer and Cllr Chris Mole, Leader of the same council, in conversation - click, scroll down] 3. How does a manager get a feel for what a politician wants? It can be compared to a dance, a pas de deux, a delicate circular process in which a political wish - a 'steer' - meets legal, technical and financial constraints as these are explained by a manager. In this case we can observe a process of making government in which politician and manager negotiate a balance between the need for the officer to serve the whole council - according to codes of practice - and the reality of being expected, as a manager, to give special attention to the needs of the majority party and, within that, the needs of a smaller ruling group or even simply the leader. In this conversation member and officer strive to close the gap between the officer's desire and duty to communicate as widely as possible with members, including the opposition, and a senior and ruling politician's claim to special attention. Made in 1993 long before the major political reorganisation of 2000 this conversation between the late Cllr.Sheila Baguley, Chair Leisure Services, Ipswich Borough Council and Bill Hewlett, Group Manager, Housing/Social Need shows a negotiation around the place of social services in the future governance of the area that remains familiar, regardless of time and place.
Bill Hewlett: - I’ve got to make sure that there’s an opportunity for that (members’ political views) to influence the shape and direction of the model that we come up with (for providing social services at Borough level). Cllr.Sheila Baguley: So your role would actually be facilitating and allowing that input to go in. Do you not think you put in some of it as well? BH: Yeah I do. Inevitably. Is anybody apolitical? The idea of an officer being totally professional and - I think it’s hard. I think at the end of the day what I’ve got to recognise is that I’ve got to take account of your own wishes but also the wishes of the minority party - SBg: Hm BH - em - who I think as - as you’ve said in previous times could well be my future employers - em - but it also recognises from my point of view that no one group or one person has a monopoly of the ideas and as so often is the case if you can actually involve others in testing out your hypothesis - whatever - you can actually improve the model - em - and doing it by testing it out with other - other members from other political parties - em - may point towards areas where your particular model - your particular desires could be frustrated.(pause) Now the question I have then what do I share with you and what do I share with - with the other political party. And it comes down to personal credibility I suppose and the degree of trust that exists between an officer and a member - SBg: hm BH: And - em - it can be a little blurred but at the end of the day I think it does - it - you and I - our relationship is - is one of - two people recognising they’re coming from different directions. And - and we know that we won’t meet in all parts — SBg: yuh BH: but there - there’s a lot of common ground. There will be a lot of common ground if I was to speak to the minority party spokesman on that issue as well and - but there would be differences and I suppose what - what I would be aiming to do is to highlight some of those differences - which I could bring out in discussions with you and with them. - SBg: Yes. I mean - I think it is right that - that oppositions have a chance to comment on things - and they do occasionally come up with good ideas. Not often, but I mean occasionally - you see I can make a joke about it and you laugh but you don’t - no - yes all right - yes, but I think - I think there is - there are times when there would be something said and I think this - BH: yeah SBg: - is what we would need to work on, when I would need to say to you “This has got to be kept within a certain framework.” BH: Yup SBg: And that means the majority party, maybe even the leader and myself and perhaps one other committee chairman, and - and to keep it tight for those very reasons I would need you to accept that without - almost without questioning in a way
This film marked the moment when, in trying to understand political-management dynamics, I stopped asking questions of those being filmed. I had grasped that instead of trying to get people to tell me about their working relationship, I should try to make a record of them having that relationship. This film did start with me asking questions. After a while I realised Sheila and Bill were having a conversation with each other and not with me. Transcription is from: Baddeley, S (1998) 'Constructing trust at the top of local government', in Andrew Coulson (ed.) (1998) Trust & Contracts: Relationships in local government, health & public services (Policy Press:Bristol) (4) 55-78 e-mail for a copy:
4. I've always enjoyed showing this forthright description by a leading councillor of what makes a good officer, Filmed at Birmingham in the mid-1980s it's been great for opening up a discussion. Patricia Kirwan, a Tory councillor, respected by those who worked for her and by her constituents, became unable to continue in the political world of the Council she served after she had persistently challenged what, several years later were shown to be the corrupt, improper and ultimately innefficient practices of her Council's Leader.
PK: If I was on an interviewing panel and there were four candidates one of whom I knew was a rampaging left-winger I probably wouldn’t vote for his appointment no matter how able because there simply wouldn’t be any meeting of minds. Now I’m not saying that any officer working for me has to be a Conservative. No way. But there has to be no moral objection to working for me and implementing Conservative policies as they are perceived.
SB: Right-well-where I’m going with this is that even though I’m Tory and you’re Labour if you’ve written me a manifesto I can say “Right, now I think I know what you want.”
PK: Then you should do it.
SB: If I’m going to try and pick up the emotional content-
PK: You shouldn’t be working for me.
SB: Right I mean-er-
PK: You should go and work for Camden.
SB: Right-so-but in a sense I can’t pick it up from something written. I do need to know you better to know what it is that you want to achieve and I’ve got to understand.
PK: You have something written. You’ve got to talk to somebody. You’ve got to have a drink with somebody. You’ve got to sit down and discuss things with them. You’ve got to know each other warts and all because you’ve got to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses - if you’re going to work well together. (continues)
5. The working relationship between a specialist Department head and his Chair, what would since 2000, be between a Director and the relevant Portfolio holder, is quite as important. In 1996 Cllr Eve Brook, Birmingham's Chair of Social Services, allowed me to film a conversation with her Director Richard Evans....  
I recall that as they did this interview I was, as well as attending to the camera, keeping an eye on my daughter who sat drawing in one corner of Richard's office. Part of me wonders if her presence encouraged Richard and Eve, who died only a year later, to be forthcoming about the rapport that gave impetus to their joint leadership. There's a striking quote early in this clip from Eve
One thing I absolutely know about the relationship between a chief officer and a chair - or certainly me and any chief officer I might have - is if I didn't like them personally I would have a great deal of trouble working with them. I would find it almost impossible.
More film extracts with notes are posted at 'relations that make government' and see here for a brief note on my interest in leadership in government

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Simon Baddeley