Expert criticises Pickles’ employment plans

I’m by no means the sharpest knife in the box when it comes to all the legalities and complexities of local government let alone the employment law. However, as I have already said in a previous post, this headline grabbing, shot from the hip announcement by Eric Pickles, is music to the ears of the legal profession.

Will nobody get a grip of this wind bag and put a muzzle on him, before he does some real and long lasting damage? Come to think of it he probably already has, we just haven’t noticed yet.

A word of caution to any of my councillor colleagues having outside of their chief executive’s office door with an axe in the form of a P45 in hand. Please remember that Pickles has not offered any legal or financial support for this proposed change – if you try it you’re on your own. It’s the classic Eric Pickles way of working – shouting fire in the middle of a crowd and then sitting back and watching the chaos that ensures. When challenged, he’ll tell you that it’s what ‘the people’ wanted.

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

An employment expert has criticised ministerial proposals to scrap safeguards for key council officers.
Sir Rodney Brooke, a solicitor and former council chief executive who has been involved in several high-profile disciplinary cases, has questioned communities secretary Eric Pickles’ plan to scrap the process by which the dismissal of senior officers is reviewed by an independent expert.
The communities secretary pledged this week to clear this “legal minefield” of protections, which he claimed “took forever” and cost up to £420,000 a go.
The laws introducing the safeguards were laid by Margaret Thatcher’s government amid fears of politically motivated sackings by newly elected Labour councils.
Chief executives, section 151 finance officers and monitoring officers facing disciplinary procedures currently have their cases reviewed by a ‘designated independent person’.
Many commentators agreed the lengthy and expensive investigations meant councils increasingly chose to negotiate settlements with employees.
But Sir Rodney suggested amending the procedures. “A better system would be to give the designated independent person wider powers,” he said.
“If the relationships [between officers and members] have broken down irretrievably there is no point in carrying on with the investigation. Even if you come to the conclusion there is no misconduct, they still have to go. [In this case] the [designated independent person] could negotiate some compromise settlement.”
Sir Rodney said the concerns that led to the creation of the DIP in the 1980s remained. “If you are in a politically volatile job, as you are in local government, safeguards are desirable,” he said.
The Association of Council Secretaries & Solicitors suggested the current arrangements could benefit from a review, but said Mr Pickles’ proposal was “misconceived”.
Others, such as employment consultant Roger Morris who has advised a number of senior officers facing dismissal, defended the current arrangements. He warned that Mr Pickles’ proposal could increase costs if more cases ended in employment tribunals.
Mr Morris argued the DIP process need not be scrapped or reviewed. It was effective in ensuring senior officers in the three key roles were not dismissed without grounds or received a negotiated compensation deal, he said.
“It is important that officials in very exposed public positions can do their job without fear or favour.”
The communities secretary appeared to pre-empt such reasoning by arguing that councillors wishes should be paramount.

“What’s decided in the full democratic council chamber will be what counts,” he said.

“If elected representatives decide a chief executive is for the chop. So be it.”

The Department for Communities & Local Government said the amendment to regulations would take place early in the new year following a short consultation of no more than four weeks.

Earlier, the LGA, Solace, Alace and Acses all adopted varying positions following Mr Pickles announcement.

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