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Long Live the King!

Long Live the KingIt looks as though the succession has been established - at least in the short term, when this week the Council decided to fast-track the appointment of a new Chief Executive with an internal selection process. Although it is still subject to formal interviews, former Executive Directors Philip Woodward and David Joy are expected be appointed Chief Executive and Deputy Chief Executive respectively.

The Council also decided a new structure for the next officer tier, (renaming posts and duties to match the Commissar's Politburo cabinet), and reducing their number by one, leaving eight officers to share out the new duties.

There are also pay increases all round, funded by the removal of one Executive Director's post and the removal of one Unit Manager, yet still generating a reported first year saving of 68,000, and a notional 30,000 of costs for an external selection process.

It could have been less expensive and generated a bigger saving with a wider restructuring, but at least it is not an overall increase.

The Chief Executive will now be paid 90,000 pa (up from around 80,000), rising over time to 95,000 on successful annual performance appraisals. The plan also proposes to pay the Deputy on 85% of this, with the eight senior managers being paid 60-75%.

So why has this been done, and what does it mean for Fylde?

First, counterbalance takes the unusual step of saying "well done" to Fylde's temporary part-time acting chief executive and dedicated follower of fashion Bill Taylor. 

In a brave and surprising step, he showed great insight and understanding when he made the report in open committee. 

Normally staffing matters are concluded behind closed doors to protect the personal details of applicants and potholders. 

Whilst a cynic might attribute a devious motive, (ie to try to restrict what councillors could say in public about the people being proposed) on balance, counterbalance gives him credit for the move.

It probably shows he has understood one of the key problems with the present administration - its spin, and its secrecy, and its behind-the-scenes dealings that has led to massive public distrust. 

By producing a balanced report and being open and transparent about the appointments, the costs, and the savings, he has shown a direction his successor would do well to emulate.

As it happened, Councilors were unable to rise to the challenge, and kept attempting to discuss the personal attributes or otherwise of the people involved. Mr. Taylor was quick to stop them, but eventually he had to concede the declaration of a closed session where blood could be let in private. However, that does not detract from his initial desire to be open.

Why has it been done internally?

Well, basically it is because everyone thinks Fylde is doomed (and it probably is). It will probably be replaced by a new Authority of much bigger size which the Government will announce in another of its major re-organisations this summer or autumn. Conventional wisdom says that at such a time people are reluctant to move to a new post until their local prospects are more clear.

An external appointment would also have brought a new broom, and after the disaster wrought by a previous broom-bearing Chief Executive who - according to one councilor - came in specifically with the intention to change the culture of Fylde and to modernise and shake up the authority, the one thing Fylde does need is a period of stability and consolidation.

Finally, it is internal because the prospective incumbents are familiar with, and know the character of, the area in which they will work. They can take up the reins straight away, and it will save both the cost of advertising, and the six months or so delay in getting someone new in post, and the further six months or so for them to orientate themselves in Fylde - which is a peculiar and exceptional local authority well removed from the norm because of its exceptional demographic profile.

So, in the present circumstances, counterbalance strongly supports the principle of an internal appointment.

Where we might differ, is whether the two princes should have been declared King and consort, or whether there is another more able knight sitting at the table.

This is also why the Councillors went into closed session. Clearly some felt that the appointment should be opened to all internal candidates. For some this would be a matter of principle, but we suspect for the majority who opposed the plan, the two princes are felt to be too closely tied-in to the discredited previous setup, and thus they do not enjoy the full support of all Councillors.

Most (but not all) of the concern was coming from the non-Conservative sector, although a few non-Conservatives also seemed to be supporting the 'princes' option. The decision was taken in private, and  we suspect the Commissar will have had to use his whip to carry the vote to interview only the two princes.

Quite how this augurs for their future is difficult to ascertain. Clearly they will need to be seen wearing different colours in order to survive, so there is perhaps a hope that we might see more sense emanating from the top. But in contrast, it also shows how the Commissar has tightened his grip, and how they might find it difficult to remain sufficiently separate from his identity and working impartially in the service of all councillors -which, of course, might be another reason that some opposed the plan.

After the meeting had closed, another name could be heard crossing the lips of those who would have widened the internal net. Whether anything will come of this remains questionable, but it suggests the vote was probably quite close.

One danger that might not have been on the councillors radar is that having an internal promotion at high level puts a big plus mark on your CV, and makes you considerably more attractive if you choose to look elsewhere for employment. So the fat lady might not yet be singing.

The overall result for Fylde is probably positive, but the dust needs to settle to be sure. And, of course, the Commissar and the dreadful politburo system is still in place. 

We live in hopes.

Dated 30 March 2006


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