Editor of the MJ. Michael Burton was a keynote speaker at the managers conference at Thurrock Council earlier this week.
He reflects on the session in his paper.
Mr Burton said:”
“While there is much hand-wringing about local government’s role and whether its services can survive in their present form with all the cuts we sometimes forget how its real influence far outweighs its public image.
I was reminded of this by two events I attended earlier this week. The first was a training meeting of Thurrock Council managers whose chief executive Graham Farrant, a former chief of Barking and Dagenham LBC , said that while the development corporation had come and gone and the RDA had come and gone and the government office had come and gone the council remained, a constant presence throughout the shifting sands of central government policy.
It continued to be primus inter pares because despite government attempts to reduce its influence or by-pass its role with new bodies, the council was the continuing, stable legitimate voice of its area.
By coincidence, the second event I attended also involved a former chief executive of Barking & Dagenham, Rob Whiteman, departing his job at the helm of the LGID to head up the immigration directorate, the UK Border Agency . It is a huge job and Rob will be in charge of 25,000 staff, including 9000 warranted officers.
His move to Whitehall is only the latest in a line of council executives being poached to run central government agencies because they know how to deliver rather than just write policy papers.
Despite the anti-council rhetoric by ministers, the constant knocking about salaries and non-jobs and calls for executive leaders, when the chips are down who do ministers turn to when they need to fill challenging posts? Local government. And when the development corporations, the RDAs, the government offices have become the latest agencies to be swept away by the latest policy shift, what is left? Local government.
As we contemplate gloomily – too gloomily – the future shape of the sector, council managers and members should remind themselves from time to time that the public and central government need them far more than they realise. Just don’t expect to get any thanks.