York Council navel gazing day

With City eyes focusing on how well the retail economy will perform today, the Council is taking the chance to slip through a restructuring of its management team.

West Offices face major shake up after lock-down ends

The changes are part of the continuing fall out following the premature departure of the Authorities last Chief Executive.

A meeting today will formally adopt a temporary structure. One of the aims is to save over £80,0000 a year in management costs.

It has already made one disastrous decision in appointing a “Director of Governance”. That post has presided over a drift into even great secrecy in decision making with one of the incumbents first initiatives being to stop the publication of answers to Freedom of Information requests.

This followed on from the previous Councils decision not to invite written questions and to publish the answers following Council meetings.

The long term problem of decisions being taken without consultation has been further compounded during the lock-down. The majority of decisions are now being announced on the Councils web site without any prior notification (much less any opportunity for residents to have any input). Background papers are published on the same day that the decision is announced

The proposed interim structure would effectively see the acting Chief Executive – or Chief Operating Operator as the title is being restyled – with 9 direct reports. That is an unworkable structure, which totally misses the opportunity to have a “Head of Paid Service” with mainly strategic & leadership objectives.

There is little option but to continue the existing arrangements until the City has negotiated the health crisis.

Lock-down saw the best and worst of local authority traits. High levels of commitment to public services from junior staff; indecision and, in some cases, invisibility from some managers.

The Council will need to learn the lessons of the last 6 months.

It must then restructure, and recruit, to address identified failings.

York Council management restructuring plans revealed

Hard on the heels of the retirement of the Chief Executive, the York Council has revealed how it hopes to recoup the costs of the early retirement exercise.

The post of Director of Finance and Investment will be deleted. This was the post traditionally styled as the City Treasurer. More junior staff will absorb this work.

The present Director has been acting as Chief Executive for over 9 months now and he will continue in that role.

More consultation with stakeholders is promised before any new structure is implemented.

The restructuring will save about £86,000 a year in salary costs

Details of the plans can be found by clicking here

York Council Chief Executive’s retirement confirmed

Cost of pension contributions will be just over £400,000

Following the early retirement of Ms Mary Weastell, Cllr Keith Aspden, Leader of the Council commented:

Council statement

“Ms Weastell’s early retirement has given the City of York Council the opportunity to consider a restructure of the Council’s corporate management team. As part of this, we have been able to identify ways to save money through efficiencies and these proposals will ensure that costs can be met through existing budgets with no additional impact for the taxpayer.

“This will also ensure our senior team focus on the areas that are important to the city and that a consultation is able to be brought forward swiftly. Our ambitious council plan requires significant investment, and to achieve this it is right that we review the best way of delivering for the city to make the most of our available resources.”

Debbie Mitchell, Head of Finance, confirmed:

“As an open and transparent council, we want to share how much Ms Weastell has received as part of her early retirement.  There are strict rules in place that govern payments due to individuals and, in line with these statutory requirements; the council has incurred costs of c £404k.  The majority of this sum around £330k is statutory payments and pension strain costs to the authority that have to be paid. 

“The Council will commence consultation to make at least £81k of savings per annum with a paper published today to the Staffing Matters and Urgency Committee to begin that process.  Full details will be presented in the annual accounts as usual.”

So farewell another York Chief Executive?

It seems, at the York Council, that the head of the paid service is changed almost as often as the Council Leader. On average they seem to last for less than 3 years. The current post holder was appointed in late 2016 and lasted only until the May 2019 elections.

She was taken ill shortly afterwards and not seen again at West Offices.

Now the media are speculating about a £400,000 payoff to facilitate her  “early retirement”.

Mary Weastell was the former Chief Executive of the much smaller Selby Council. Her promotion represented a risk by the York Council.  She maintained a relatively low key image up the point in September 2017 when she recommended that the Leader of the opposition and another experienced Councillor be sacked as Executive members.

The allegations against both were subsequently found to be bogus.

Confidence was undermined.

Ironically, those falsely accused were to be returned in May 2019 as the new leaders of the Council.

The LibDem led Council has had an awkward few months.

Street public service standards fell in the summer as inexperienced new executive members struggled with their portfolio responsibilities. There was an expectation that some of the suspect decisions of the previous years would be jettisoned but financially risky decisions were confirmed on the future of the Guildhall, and more recently, on how the Castle Piccadilly development would proceed.

Other projects seemed to stall. The Community Stadium has had more opening dates announced than goals scored by York City while large numbers of empty properties remained on the Councils books. The older persons accommodation project similarly ground to a halt. Many residents were antagonised by the decision to raise Councillor pay by 18% and the extension of the  lease for the controversial Spark container village strained the credibility of many.

But, in many ways more seriously, on the professional officer side of the Council, errors started to creep into published reports. Earlier in the week it transpired that vulnerable tenants had been told that their garden care scheme was being abandoned, apparently without any senior manager oversight.

There has been some  good new of course . Generally, the City has coped well with recent period of poor weather. The Councils budget papers were put into the public domain earlier and one Executive Councillor broke the habits of a generation by determining contract awards at a public decision session.

The LibDems had promised more openness prior to the local elections. They were urged in June to publish the (anonymised) information on which they based a decision on whether to fund the cost of early retirements and other severance packages.

They have not done so.

As a result, information has been leaked by opposition politicians determined to gain an advantage through the inevitable innuendo that accompanies large expenditure revelations.

The Council has backed itself into a corner.

Irrespective of any non-disclosure agreements that may have been signed, it cannot now even explain publicly the scale of any pay-out and how it has been calculated. Most of the expenditure may simply reflect pension costs over an extended period. We may never know.

There is a potential conflict between an employees right to personal privacy – even more important when someone is trying to address a health issue – and the legitimate interests of taxpayers in ensuring that any deals are fair and reasonable.

There is no convincing scrutiny of decisions taken behind closed doors.

So the Council should in future agree to make public information about the scale of any payments being authorised and the justification for them.

There is no need to identify individuals. We have seen recently, at national level, how the abrasive and intrusive attention of the media can have tragic consequences.

But a more balanced and understanding approach to the public interest is needed from the York Council.

Continuing concerns over Chief Executives health in York

It is nearly 6 months since the Chief Executive of the City of York Council went on sick leave. The problem arose shortly after the May local elections and left the largely inexperienced new Council with inadequate senior management capacity.

The result was that there was a lack of direction during the summer period with the standard of several public services noticeably falling.

The Council drifted into several decisions, including a £20 million Guildhall redevelopment contract, without the rigorous reappraisal that a new administration, acting with the advantage of experienced advisors, might have chosen to approach differently.

The Council must now consider whether to continue with a temporary Chief Executive – a senior officer “acting up” – or whether to move to something more permanent.

Long service Chief officers in local government are entitled to 6 months sick leave on full pay followed by 6 months on half pay. So potentially if the Chief Executive continues to be absent there will be funding available in the budget to cover any backfill.

Not an easy decision and the health of employees must always be a paramount consideration.

But York taxpayers will now expect to see a roadmap published which shows a way back to having a full management team in place in the City.

There are simply too many decisions coming along (including the completion of the Community Stadium, the Guildhall, York Central, York Bypass improvements etc.) to allow a continued policy drift.

The York Council will consider the future of its Chief Executive post next week

York Council indecision on new Chief Executive?

IndecisionYork seems likely to be without a permanent replacement for its Chief Executive for at least another 6 months.

Papers published for a meeting taking place on 1st February reveal that a review of the Council’s management structure, commissioned last June, has apparently still not been concluded.

The report blames ongoing financial pressures for the delays, although the Chief Executives post  has been filled on a temporary basis (at full salary) for over 6 months.

It now appears that the report on a new structure may now be available in March. A £150,000 a year saving on salary costs is being achieved from 1st April by deleting a post dealing with “transformation and change”

Staff working in the Chief Executives Department are being transferred to other management groups suggesting that the Council may be thinking of abolishing the role of Chief Executive altogether.  

The Council will, however, now move to appoint a permanent Director of Public Health on a salary of around £100,000. 

The Council will also make a permanent appointment to the post of “City and Environmental Services”. Essentially this is the role formerly held by Bill Woolley who retired over three years ago. It is responsible for planning and transport policy.  The post will also attract a pay level of around £100,000 pa. The Council says that to minimise recruitment costs this post will be “advertised externally on City of York Council Jobs Website and promoted through the Council social media channels”.  Minimal advertising of vacancies is usually a tactic that a Council adopts when it has “someone in mind” for the post.

Recent events – including the Councils response to the flooding crisis – suggest that there is a lack of effective leadership in the authority.  Taking over 12 months to find a permanent appointment for the post which is responsible for driving the administrative side of the Council is, at best, complacent and at worst negligent.

The York Council is now desperately short of experienced management capacity.

Councillors need to act quickly and decisively to fill the void.

York Council moves on vacant Chief Executive post

With the Chief Executive post at the York Council due to become vacant on 31st July, the Council is set to appoint a selection team as it bids to find a successor to Kersten England (right)

Chief Executive Kersten England will leave the York Council in July.

Chief Executive Kersten England will leave the York Council in July.

The Council will initially look to make an interim appointment from within its existing pool of senior managers

In a break with tradition, other non Council employees will also be able to apply to be considered for the temporary post. The post could continue in existence for as long as 9 months.

On this occasion the new Council has obviously decided not to go down the (expensive) route of using a consultant to fill the interim post.

In a report to a meeting taking place on 8th June the Council says,

To ensure that external candidates can also be considered for the opportunity the post will be advertised on City of York Council Jobs Website, this approach would mean there would be no additional recruitment costs. It is proposed that the opportunity will be advertised on the 8th June with a closing date of 19th June and that interviews are held on the 26th June 2015”.

Any appointment would be subject to ratification by the full Council.

Pay for the post is expected to be around £130,000 a year (pro rata)

Interviews would be conducted by a 3 person panel representing the main political groups on the Council.

It is anticipated that a restructure of the senior management team at the Council will take place before a new permanent Chief Executive takes up post early next year.