Letter: Time to remove the council’s Chief Executive

Mike Starke writes to Eric Pickles in response to his suggestion that council Chief Executives could be scrapped by local authorities in order to save money

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We always welcome a Letter to the Editor to share with our readers. This one from Mike Starke was recently sent to Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government after he released a paper titled “50 ways to save: Examples of sensible savings in local government” (embedded below for your convenience). Ed

Dear Mr Pickles,

May I congratulate you on one of your suggested measures whereby local authorities could save money, by scrapping the post of chief executive (item 23 in the embedded document below. Ed).

I have advocated this for some years here on the Isle of Wight, where our unitary authority has had no less than eight holders of that position in 14 years. The present incumbent, a former primary school teacher, enjoys a remuneration package of some £185,000, according to an external survey.

Head of legal to go too
My reform would reinstate the former role of County Secretary to the Isle of Wight Council. This person should be legally trained, much as traditional town clerks were. This would obviate the need for a head of legal services, too, a post costing us £106,000 a year here at present.

I am sure the saving of nearly £300,000 of Isle of Wight taxpayers’ cash could be put to better use paying for services, such as reinstating axed library provision or tourist information centres on an island that relies on tourism for its economic viability.

Strategic directors blight local councils
In my researches into profligacy over employment packages for senior county hall staff I discovered that SOLACE (The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers) actively promotes the system of “strategic directors” that blights local government.

The Isle of Wight has suffered as a result of this arrangement whereby highly-paid “managers”, with little or no qualifications for their areas of expertise, preside over departments with often disastrous consequences in terms of delivery or value for money.

This top-heavy tier of management, with its tailback of deputies and assistants, also leads to an over-reliance on expensive “consultants”, many of whom prove as inadequate as they are wasteful of cash resources.

£70,000 paid to SOLACE on the Island
The wheels of this bandwagon are kept greased by Solace Enterprises, a wholly-owned commercial arm of SOLACE, which advertises its ability to call upon some 900 temporary or permanent “strategic directors”. It also offers management consultancy.

A Freedom of Information enquiry revealed our council had paid for nearly £70,000- worth of such dubious expertise in recent years. I am sure many trade unions would be envious of this scheme, with the senior staff’s “union” acting for its council employee members at the same time as it makes money directing aspects of the county hall employers’ operations.

Wisdom in the senior staff reform
As one of the Isle of Wight’s large population of retired persons, I resent my council tax being frittered away on six-figure salaries, while services are cut across the whole community.

I wonder if your department could find time to bring some pressure to bear on the leadership of our council to get it to see the error of its ways and the wisdom of the senior staff reform you have advocated.

Yours sincerely,

Mike Starke

Image: sampsyo under CC BY 2.0

Sunday, 30th December, 2012 2:01pm


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Filed under: Island-wide, Letter to the Editor

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Any views or opinions presented in the comments below are solely those of the author and do not represent those of OnTheWight.


  1. well done MikE

    I don’t have any problem with people EARNING £100k plus…the difference is this current bunch don’t deserve to earn more than minimum wage

  2. Well done, Mike. Unfortunately, this council never seem to listen to anything the electorate say to it and will doubtless ignore anything Mr. Pickles says. Although I believe he has a reputation as a bit of a bruiser!

    • Don Smith

      1.Jan.2013 7:33pm

      You get a council that people vote for.
      The people have the power to make changes; but will they, I doubt it. This is Tory island!

      • wightywight

        2.Jan.2013 10:34am

        @Don Smith:

        Don, I’ve posted this before to you, I think…..
        Whilst I understand your underlying sentiments the facts are not how you describe them…
        Since 1973 the conservatives will have had (calculating up to May 2013…) 12 years in power.
        4 years from 1977 – 1981 and then from 2005 – present (next May)
        Out of 40 years of Local Authority control since 1973 therefore, the conservatives have been in power for a tad over one third of the time. The huge gap from 1981 – 2005 (24 years) did not see the conservatives anywhere near securing power!
        I think it’s fair to say on that performance it’s hardly a good description as being …”Tory island”
        Indeed, if one were to consider the past 40 years it would be more accurate to describe the Island as more Politically centre than anything else since the Lib Dems held onto power either alone or jointly with Independents for the best part of 20 years..!
        (accepting that we can only really guess at the political persuasion of Independent Councillors)
        In any event, I worry about this sort of resigned reference to the Island Politically…suggesting that Conservatives will be voted in again.
        Clearly, the history of this administration over the past 3 – 4 years has been disgraceful and inept in many ways and if enough voters get to hear about the damage done, the impact of their decisions, the continued mistakes being made the time may be right for a public swing away from this type of administration and back to a more central political base. I say that because I don’t believe Labour has the basis on the Island to take power leaving either Lib Dems or Independents.
        My money could well be on Independents getting a small majority.
        I believe that if they can get organised and field some good candidates in all the Wards ..pushing Island issues and demonstrating the utter mess the conservatives have made of the past 8 years (nationally as well…)people could well be persuaded to try a different approach.
        The thing not to do is resign yourself to the (false?) notion this Island is a staunch Conservative base….. it really isn’t and history confirms that.


  3. Rupert Besley

    30.Dec.2012 5:10pm

    What an excellent letter, spot-on in every detail!

  4. So County Hall is full of experts.

    Definition of expert:

    An ex is a has-been and a spurt is only a drip under pressure.

  5. Victor Meldrew

    30.Dec.2012 7:19pm

    Wasn’t Felix Hetherington the last “Clerk to he Council” and head of paid service? Seemed to work OK then. I’m afraid current County Hall incumbents (eleected and non-elected) have started to believe their own bulls**t.Like No.5 I have no problem with people being paid high wages – but not for failure. Most private enterprise chief officer posts come with performance targets, failure to achieve these results in some form of censure. Here it attracts golden goodbyes and hefty pension liabilities.

  6. Better Red than Bled

    31.Dec.2012 1:33am

    I believe the correct protocol should be to ask our elected Member of Parliament to approach the Minister with a parliamentary question. I’m sure if Mike was to ask Mr Turner to take up this issue we may see some illuminating answers, both from Turner and then Pickles in the House.

  7. alex davies

    31.Dec.2012 8:20am

    A chief executive officer and their deputy should model themselves on on the Captain as a well run ship. If that ship gets into trouble, then like the captain of the titanic, those officers should go down with the ship (ie do the honourable thing). The Isle of Wight Chief Executive Officer and his deputy however, seem to modelled themselves on the captain of the Concordia, in that they have deliberately steered the ship into dangerous waters, and then abandoned the ship, its crew and its passengers to their fate. Think now of Stuart Loves transport contingency plan for the IOW festival. An the cock-up he’s made with Cowes Enterprise College, that will cost the Council Tax payers millions.

    Steve, Stuart, do the right thing – like the titanic captain

  8. But if he went, where would we go to book a room at the Riverside centre?

  9. Robert Jones

    1.Jan.2013 12:57pm

    A brilliant letter, and some brilliant comments too – especially block8’s on Dec 31st at 3.55pm.

  10. David Rann

    1.Jan.2013 9:46pm

    Mike – ‘Strategic Directors blight local councils’

    The Isle of Wight has suffered as a result of this arrangement whereby highly-paid “managers”, with little or no qualifications for their areas of expertise, preside over departments with often disastrous consequences in terms of delivery or value for money.

    As most people already know that Steve Beynon was a former primary school head before he came to the island which should provide him with an area of expertise in school based things (!) have you ever managed to determine what the other band of brothers (and sisters) in the strategic directors team actually bring to the party? Its certainly not clear – did your freedom of information turn up anything?

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