Monday, 21 January 2013

Cornwall Council seeks new Chief Executive (or does it?)

With the announcement that Kevin Lavery is off to New Zealand, there is a vacancy at the top of Cornwall Council's officer class. The search will be on to find a successor on both an interim and permanent basis - although what form that new role takes is open to debate.

(This will probably be my first and last post on the process as I will be one of nine councillors sitting on the decision making and interview panel for the interim post. We haven't had our first meeting yet, but once we do it would probably be inappropriate for me to comment until the process is finished.)

One of the keys to the debate is over whether we need a chief executive at all. Legally, the council need only have a 'head of paid service', but this role can be combined with another. Such a move would save the salary and on-costs of the chief executive role (about a quarter of a million pounds a year) and so is nothing to be sniffed at.

But it is also the case that Cornwall has a history of no overall control of its councils and this may well be the situation after May. In circumstances where there is not a firm political direction, it is helpful to have a clear lead from the top of the 'civil service'. This need not take the form of Kevin Lavery making policy - as was often perceived in Cornwall. Instead it could be that the chief executive forces the administration to take the lead.

Come the end of March, Cornwall will also be without permanent office holders in three of the top jobs that existed until recently. There will be no permanent Chief Executive, no Director of Environment and Economy and no Director of Communities - the last of which is a position that is being deleted.

There is also the Isles of Scilly factor. That council too is currently without a chief executive and it may be that both they and Cornwall feel that sharing the position would be a sensible and cost-effective way forward.

The decision on appointing a permanent chief executive (or another permanent solution) won't be taken until after the elections in May. But there needs to be someone at the head of the council from the end of March when Mr Lavery leaves. That is the role of the nine member panel which will be seeking applications from within the current workforce.

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