Pickles shoots from the hip – again

Eric Pickles has finally said something I agree with – local government employment rules are an anachronism and need to be changed. However, in order to grab yet another 15 minutes of fame and plenty of headlines, he’s conveniently overlooked that annoying thing called the legal system. I doubt whether too many councils will be tapping their highly paid CX on the shoulder and handing him or her their P45 anytime soon, simply based on a vote taken at a full council meeting.

The lawyers must love Eric Pickles, first the farce over Regional Strategies, now he’s inviting all the employment lawyers to order a new Aston Martin paid for by local taxpayers.

Copyright Local Government Chronicle
9 November, 2012 | By Ruth Keeling

Employment protections for council officers look set to be removed as communities secretary Eric Pickles renews his battle with “bureaucratic barons” and “golden goodbyes”.

Ministers are expected to propose the scrapping of a rule which requires councils to appoint a lawyer to conduct a review when an officer is suspended – a rule originally introduced to prevent dismissals motivated by political issues.

Mr Pickles is understood to be frustrated that councils frequently arrange large pay offs for chief executives in order to avoid the appointment of a lawyer and an expensive and lengthy investigation into the suspension.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities & Local Government said an amendment to the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) Regulations 2001 would come “into effect early in the new year following a short consultation” which is not to last more than four weeks. It is not clear whether the amendment will affect section 151 officers and monitoring officers as well as chief executives and DCLG have been asked to clarify.

Writing in the Telegraph, he said: “Watching incompetent bureaucratic barons bouncing from one post to another with only a nice payoff to cushion their fall has been a source of immense frustration to many local government colleagues.

“At present getting rid of your chief exec involves a series of fantastical labyrinthine twists and turns — beginning with the appointment of a high-flying lawyer to review the case. It takes forever and costs a small fortune. One case took 16 months to adjudicate and racked up costs of £420,000.”

He added: “The days of lining your pockets at the expense of the taxpayer are over. In future, what’s decided in the full democratic council chamber will be what counts. And if elected representatives decide a chief executive is for the chop. So be it.”

The proposal is one of a raft of announcements made by Mr Pickles on Friday, including a call for councils get rid of the chief executive altogether.

A press release issued by the on Friday said: “The post of chief executive is not set in statute, which means there are no central barriers to remove the role. It only takes a simple democratic decision by the council. Several councils have done this in the past year. The statutory head of paid service role can be done by another senior officer.”

The secretary of state has also written to the LGA to “urge them to take steps to improve their performance management of senior posts” and he announced plans to strengthen guidance on the publication of pay policies.

Currently councils are advised to hold a vote on pay deals over £100,000, but Mr Pickles said smaller councils who do not have such high salaries should set a lower vote threshold and warned that ministers would regulate if councils don’t act on it.

DCLG said: “With a public worried about the cost of living and all parts of the public sector looking to make deficit savings, Ministers believe these steps will show taxpayers that value for money is being fully considered for top paid staff.”

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