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Management Shakeout

Management ShakeoutWell, well, well. After we've been saying it for a while. After Queen Elizabeth Oades and her colleagues and supporters tried to use it as part of an amendment for the 2008/09 budget to save our swimming pools but was thwarted by recalcitrant references to her plans being not sufficiently "robust" - there is to be a shake-up and shakeout of senior management at Fylde Council. (Although on the face of it, this is certainly less 'robust' than Queen Elizabeth would have made it).

It is expected that the Cabinet agenda for 7th May will have some details of what is being proposed, but we can now give our readers a sneak preview of what's in store.

But before doing so, the first question we should ask ourselves is why is this being done now?

The Conservative group has only just set the Council's budget for next year, now they plan to make changes before the ink is dry.

The Commissar said he intends to use this coming year to 're-shape' Council services. Now, a few months before he decides what the shape of those services will be in Fylde 'for the next 20 years' (in his dreams!), he is planning to put a new structure in place that won't relate to the services to be delivered.

Why on earth would you change the senior management structure before you know what it is going to do?

This looks like classic policy made on the hoof. Like a testosterone-fuelled, Type A entrepreneur - he's making it up as he goes along. Blown about like a grain of sand in the St Anne's wind, landing and pontificating arrogantly on what it looks like wherever he is at the time; wherever the latest current drops him.

The problem with this sort of management is that it costs. And it's our money he's wasting.

So if it's not logic and good planning that's driving the change, what is it?

Well, we've had a look at what is being proposed, and we think it smells a bit like this...... We must do something to get rid of the albatross department called StreetScene run by Dim Tim Ashton now that everyone knows it has cost us an extra £700,000 last year and will cost an extra £500,000 each year for the next three years, as we subsidise the Wyre bin emptying contract. Hmmmm..... I know, we'll disband StreetScene and change its name to something else, but to make it look as though we're not doing that, we'll have a wider re-shuffle and mix all the other departments up as well to cover our tracks.

Now that might not be the reason of course, it's pure fantasy. But some of the changes being planned as so misguided, and the speed at which they are being made is so indecent, it does make you wonder.

The other bad thing about this move is that it appears not to have been done properly.

By that we mean a management review would normally be the responsibility of the Chief Executive. He is accountable to the Councillors, and he chooses the people who are in turn accountable for their departments, and they choose the staff they want to deliver their services. Each makes his own decisions on who to choose, and each is accountable for their performance and delivery. Just as it should be.

But not this time.

This time the politicians (and in particular the Cabinet) are interfering in who is appointed. In the wording of the Chief Executive's report " ....It is recognised that many elected members have close, regular dealings and relationships with the Council's management team. It is therefore proposed to involve senior elected members, in particular, the Cabinet, in how this process is developed."

This is a recipe for disaster.

Politicians need to keep their hands out of management (just as serving officers need to keep well away from politics).

If Councillors don't like what's happening, they should sack the Chief Executive and get a new one. Not try and take over his job.

What you probably see here is a Chief Executive who has not been able to withstand the (undoubtedly strong and unpleasant) pressure applied by politicians.

We have seen this sort of thing before - notably with a good former Chief Executive at Wyre Council. He was perceived to be too responsive to a particular party, or at least to a party leader, and was hung like an Admiral by a change of administration.

So is there anything good about the plans for the new structure, and what are these plans anyway?

Well, in some ways - and certainly in principle - it is an eminently sensible idea, and long overdue. The present structure dates from the Dark Ages when Ken Lee was in charge. He destroyed an eminently suitable set of five Directors and set up a structure that had a chief Executive and eight Business Unit Managers - later renamed (for obvious reasons) Unit Business Managers. It was a messy, confusing structure. It didn't match with the main committee structure, and had unclear lines of communication. It also split services such as leisure and tourism away from each other which was a very bad idea - at least so far as tourism was concerned (most of the main parks and gardens in Lytham and St Anne's are - and should be - provided in support of the promotion of tourism so they should share the same overall management).

One good thing about the planned new structure is that it will reduce the present Chief Executive, Deputy Chief Executive and eight (what are now called) Executive Managers (another renaming exercise), to a Chief Executive and five directors, one of whom will also be a Deputy CE. This reverts to the pre-Lee days of common sense.

Sadly it also envisages an additional post of 'Assistant Chief Executive' which appears to be below Director level, and fits no logical purpose we can see.

Into this Assistant CE person's charge will fall: Economic Development and Promotion (Note that tourism isn't mentioned at all here any more; so complete is its demise under this administration); the Local Strategic Partnership (one of our pet organisations for as much of a chop as possible); the various 'Area Agreements' that will end up with the merging of Councils (which we would also have nothing to do with); the PR and Communications service (another of our candidates for savings); and the Council's 'Corporate Plan' which is far too grandiose and consumes far too many resources for a tiny Council like Fylde. So you'll guess that we're not over keen on this idea, and we'd prefer to see more savings taken out of the overheads that are at least in part causing the decimation of our services.

The new role envisaged for the post of Chief Executive represents a fundamental change in direction as well. It appears to refocus the ''Office of the Chief Executive' as it is to be called, less strongly on managing the staff of the Council (as has been the case in the past) and more toward the relationships between the Council and external organisations. If we didn't know better we might think this change represented a desire not to have to deal with the rough and tumble of running a few hundred staff, and being accountable for their performance. Mind you, given the performance of the Council, at least in terms of its disastrous financial management last year - which led to its monumental loss of £1.2 million overall, and an overspend in just one department of £609,000 - then anyone might be happy not to be at risk of such responsibility in the future. So the CE will be going out and about a lot.

Next in the pecking order looks to be 'Director of Corporate Resources.' You'd probably know this as Finance or Treasury, but this incarnation of will also include Legal Services, and Human Resources (now provided by Blackpool) and some of the backup staff that most people would understand as support services. This is also the department that will do agendas and similar services for Councillors. It will also do elections, health and safety, and have responsibility for community consultation.

You can see the beginnings of confusion here can't you? Traditionally, the Chief Exec's department has looked after things like elections and member services, now they're being shifted out to what will be dominated as finance and accounting. Who's going to be seen as being in real charge, the head of finance or the Chief Executive?

'Performance and Business Improvement' (oh dear! we do wish they wouldn't) is another proposed Directorate. This is the navel examining department - looking to improve internal efficiency; looking after the post-room; one stop shops; website and intranet; procurement (we never did like that word) but it will mostly be land charges. It might also become the home of licensing, and is expected (ominously) to take charge of 'special projects'

In our view, this is a non-department. Efficiency improvements, website and so on can easily become part of the responsibility of others, (we would argue they should not be divorced from being part of the responsibility of individual Directors) and the important functioning parts in this department, such as land charges, moved to more robust departments.

Then comes 'Operational Services.' This is a sort of merger of Fylde's disgraced StreetScene department (responsible for the big overspends) with whatever Wyre Council has the misfortune to have that might be like it. The new department is expected to cover Waste collection (presumably including recycling) and street and amenity cleaning. (Possibly jointly with Wyre Council if they are daft enough to join in).

Never one to learn from its mistakes, FBC is again heading toward moving this operation into the Arms Length Company (also known as an ALMO) they formed a couple of years ago (see 'Doing the Business' and 'Two's? Company'). This Limited Liability Company (maybe a good idea in the circumstances, at least it can go belly-up) is called 'FBC Solutions Ltd' (Note this is the same gang that thought they would produce £100,000 of extra income from working in the private sector and blew yet another hole in the Council's budgeting when they didn't).

'Solutions' - unless we're talking sticky, gummy, treacly ones, is something that have been conspicuous by their absence from this lot.

The rest of the tradesmen in what was the rest of Fylde's Street Scene department are being fragmented and separated out to other Directorates within the new structure in what looks to be a "get rid of it quick so no on will remember the disaster that StreetScene was" operation.

At this point, it's not known if Dim Tim - who, (nominally, at least), was responsible for Street Scene when it cocked-up so badly, is going to remain part of the problem, or become part of the 'Solutions'

Moving on (quickly) we come to planning - or rather to give it its new title 'Strategic Planning.' This is going to be a very dangerous beast. It will bring together the planning, transport and strategic housing roles of the Council, in an attempt to reconcile the ludicrous imbalance Fylde has allowed to develop between its Housing-department-driven but wholly misplaced presumed 'need' for social rented housing (see Affordable Housing) and the number of houses the planning side of the Council says it must not be exceeded. The attempt to square this circle via a re-organisation is commendable in recognising a problem, but it is the wrong solution. The answer is to slim down and enlighten the Housing staff with a good bite out of a reality sandwich.

More dangerous however is the plan to have this Directorate assume responsibility for both Development Control and 'Place Shaping' - (another council buzzword, sorry) This is not about shape-shifting (the claimed transmutational ability of some American Indian tribes) - though come to think about it when you lose £1.2 million in one year that would be a handy attribute to have - its about what you and I would know as the 'character' of a place. The features and attributes that make it what it is.

Mixing the regulation of development (where the purpose is to control or limit the harm developers can do) with the positive promotion of development in some areas (e.g. where the Council wants to see re-development) produces an incestuous mix that damages the credibility, integrity and independence of the planning system and those who work in it.

It was for this reason (and following comments by External Audit, who noted the potential for planning decisions to be compromised by officers who were also promoting applications connected with the re-development of St Anne's Town Centre) that the 'Regeneration Team' responsible for redevelopment was split out from within the former Planning Directorate and into a department not connected with approving planning applications.

But ten years is a long time at Fylde, and this has all been forgotten. In fact the plan is now to develop a strong relationship between economic promotion and planning. This is very dangerous. It brings officers whose job should be to balance the pros and cons of development impartially into far too close a proximity to the brown envelope mindset that exists within some commercial operations.

It also looks as though this Directorate would be responsible for 'Conservation and Heritage.' You can see how the Commissar might like having regeneration, economic development, and conservation in the same bed, can't you!

Bringing up the rear will be the Directorate of Community Services. This will take responsibility for services where the council 'interacts with the community', such as environmental health, licensing, leisure, parks, community safety and bereavement services. (Nice touch that one. It use to be Cemeteries and Crematoria, now it's Bereavement Services - we smell another opportunity for moneymaking here with a name like that. Stand by for added-value bereavement service delivery).

And at present, that's more or less it.

When you look at the terrible mixture of services that this structure will bring e.g. Emptying the bins is not to be a Community Service, Strategic Planning will paint and repair buildings, Customer Services are different than Community Services (as thought customers and the community are not the same thing), it shows the sort of confused thinking that has brought it about

Taken in the round you can see these plans for what they are; a welcome direction that has been ruined in the execution.

We understand the plan is to save (a miserable) £70,000 a year, which is a bit less than one typical Executive Manager's pay grade, but the number of Executive Managers is being reduced from eight to five. There is silence about whether the plan is to increase the pay grades of the five who remain standing when the dust settles, but given the evidence so far, it looks very much like it, (and privately we have been told that this is the case). Ten years ago we had five directors probably on £30k to £50k a year, and now we're going back to that arrangement, but the pay will have gone to (we're guessing, based on a saving of £70 here) something in the order of £90k or £100k a year or maybe more. Then of course there will be differentials to consider. The Deputy Chief Exec will need a bit more to recognise his additional responsibility and the Chief Exec more or less automatically has to have a differential of X% above his deputy, doesn't he? And so it goes.

It gets worse when you get to read through the documents and see the intention is for each of the five Directors to take it in turn to bring forward recommendations for how they want to change the structure of the new departments. How far do you think the £70,000 saving will last then? Answer = Not very long. In fact the probability is that this little exercise will end up costing us more than the bloated management overheads we pay now.

That sort of approach of course, is partly why they can't afford to keep swimming pools open.

Like any such upheaval, this restructure will cause staff disruption and upset, and that will disrupt services. Given the present state of morale and capability, you can probably say that Fylde is teetering on the edge of meltdown, and it may well tip over.

The report to Cabinet on 7th May is expected to put a lot of emphasis on what it calls "remote working." (so maybe there *are* changes coming in the Town Hall plans, despite the Commissar's dire warning he's going to carry on with that plan as well as closing the swimming pool, irrespective of what anyone else thinks)

We presumed 'remote working' must mean staff working (maybe from Wyre or Blackpool) or more probably on phones and PCs from home to save office space. We figure that must be the case because, in political terms, this present administration couldn't get much more remote from the people that elected it.

In fact, as the coming days and weeks are likely to reveal, the pressure to remove or replace the Commissar is going to grow.

We know that several in his group are unhappy with the direction being pursued. He is also about to antagonise the higher echelons of his party machine again with his intransigence and arrogance toward an increasingly hostile electorate. The pool, town hall, homeless hostel, Lytham quays mk2, the Queensway scheme, the promenade and the growth point bid, not to mention the airport and a few other bits are all about to erupt like a volcano on his watch.

As we have said before we think a coup from within the group is likely. That's how he will go, and probably take with him those who have nailed their colours to his mast. It's not exaggerating to say one source told us he believes this process may already have started to germinate.

So the planned shake-up and shakeout could end up being wider than the Commissar expects.

Dated:  1 May 2008 


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