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Council changes

September 13th, 2010 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 29 Comments · Politics

There are a few changes coming up in the local councils around here.   It would be nice to see some changes in the all-out district elections in Horsham and the one third of seats up for electin in Crawley next year (but don’t hold your breath for Horsham.  Historically the only challenge to the Tories has been the Lib Dems, but national events make it unlikely they will be able to force their new friends out) but in the meantime we have a couple of byelections, and a possible new Chief Executive.I’m not sure what is going on with the Chief Executive of the county council, Mark Hammond.  I don;t think anybody is, except for the new leader, Louise Goldsmith.    According to most accounts, the leader called the Chief Exec back from leave to arbitrarily sack him.  If that is true then it is terrible behaviour, not to mention unlawful.  Obviously I am not overflowing with sympathy for someone earning £200K, but even they deserve to be treated fairly and lawfully.   And that is without considering the potential cost to the council in payouts if he goes and claims for unfair dismissal.

Maybe not as exciting as the goings on up in Rugby, but still something quite strange is going on.   There is no suggestion that this action of Goldsmiths was an official council decision, or discussed with the leaders of opposition parties, or even other memebrs of the Tory party.   Be interesting to hear the details when they eventually slip out.

As for the byelections, we have two in Crawley.

One is on the borough council, where one of the Tory councillors for Tilgate has decided to resign because he can’t fit in the council work, the day job and the family, and the other is on the county coucil where Henry Smith has finally stood down after being elected to parliament.

I guess Labour should have some chance in Tilgate.  The area always used to be Labour and since the Tories got in there they have had some fairly poor councillors, from what I have heard.  I think the Tories peaked locally a year or two ago, and have been shedding council seats across the country by the hundred so that combined with the poor performance of the Tilgate Tories must help us.

If history is any guide then Maidenbower is a dead cert for the Tories, which is a shame.  It is always a shame when a Tory wins aywhere, of course, but especially so here because of the candidate.  Given the past performance this is about as close to a guaranteed win as you can get in local elections and so a chance for them to get somebody new into local politics.

Instead they have selected somebody who is already a borough councillor.  Not only that, but he is the leader of the council, Bob Lanzer.  Now I quite like Bob, and while the Tilgate Tory whose name escapes me finds it hard to fit being a backbench councillor into his life alongside his day job, Bob seemed to have no trouble fitting in ward matters and being in the shadow executive alongside his job.  Going by the register of interests it looks like he has given up the day job now he is the leader, which would be understandable.

I don’t agree with the direction Bob wants to take the council but I have no doubt in his abilities to take it in those directions, but would county councillor just be a job too many?

As a rule, I don’t like having councillors on both the county and borough council anyway if it can be avoided.  With so few people willing to stand these days apparently it can’t be avoided, but I don’t think it is a good thing for all sorts of reasons that I have blathered on about before.  Usually when it happens the person represents the same area at both levels but in this case Bob would represent Pound Hill & Worth on one authority and Maidenbower on another – so two lots of constituents to deal with.

As leader of the council he will have all sorts of unavoidable meetings with auditors and the like, and visits to the represent Crawley at the LGA.  These things happen during the daytime and can be arranged around council meetings, but the county council does all its business during the day.  I can’t see there not being clashes and when that happens he is likely to prioritise the borough committments – there are enough Tories in county hall that they can afford to have a dozen absent and still win any vote going.

I’m sure Bob would be a good county councillor without the weight of responsibilites of being leader of the borough council, but as it stands I think this is an unwise move.  Unless he is expecting to not be leader of the borough at some point in the not-too-distant future…  perhaps he is anticipating a wipe-out in next year’s borough elections?  😉

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29 Comments so far ↓

  • Danivon

    Hmmm. So if Mr Hammond’s salary is too large, who was in charge when it was approved?

    It wouldn’t be the local MP who’s now part of a government and wants to slash all these public sector wage bills, would it?

  • Richard W.

    Probably was our new Tory MP, Danivon – the former WSCC Leader who has now joined the idealogical fanatics in hounding (often to death) the sick, disabled & benefit-dependent – under the guise of “cutting benefit fraud” (see this week’s Crawley Times).

    But you (& Skuds) seem to be overlooking the critical significance in this scandalous ‘Chief Executive’ story :


    It appears the WSCC’s Tory Leader, Cllr Louise Goldsmith, was prompted to sack/summarily dismiss/instantly dismiss WSCC’s Chief Executive Mark Hammond.

    That’s exactly like CBC’s Tory Leader Bob Lanzer sacking CBC’s Chief Executive Lee Harris.

    It’s illegal, undemocratic & preposterous – but clearly shows the Tory elite at County Hall have gone power-crazy…believing they have the power to commit such a monstrous act with immunity & impunity.

    If allowed to get away with it, this would allow councillors to interfere/threaten/intimidate/bully officers at any level. (eg tow the party-political line – do as you’re told – or we’ll sack you).

    Goldsmith should resign – as well as the people who put her up to it.

    • Skuds

      I didn’t say it because it sort of goes without saying.

      I guess it is possible for there to be a totally non-political reason for wanting to sack him – but nothing can justify not following the right way to do it.

      Also, as I see it, the CE’s employer is the council and not the leader.

      • Danivon

        Indeed. It’s possible that he committed a serious breach of contract (or is accused of doing so). But even if that were the case, it is not the Leader’s place to summarily dismiss someone.

        Jas works in HR, and she knows a bit about the hoops that you need to go through to dismiss them. If you fail to adhere to protocol, then it could mean a costly trip to the Employment Tribunal.

        • Skuds

          Exactly. No point speculating, but even if he committed very serious breaches there would at least be a meeting where this was explained, with the opportunity for union representation.

          Though not an HR person I have to sit in on disiplinary meetings at work as a union rep and would be calling in the lawyers straight away if any of our members was treated like this, whatever they did.

          There is never an excuse to depart from the due process.

  • Skuds

    That was then. This is now. Henry thinks what he is told to think now, or he won’t get a junior ministerial job to boost his ego.

  • Hero

    Plus our ‘enry has gone very quiet about the so called new hospital for Crawley!!! Bit of pants on fire there.

  • Peter

    I know Bob as well – we used to be in the same union branch – and I’m not so sure that he would be a good County Councillor. Given the work he is doing at CBC e.g. selling the Hawth, we would not expect him to support any progressive policies would we? For example spending on sustainable transport or planting a few trees in Maidenbower/Crawley?
    Labour candidate for Maidenbower/Pound Hill south

    • Skuds

      OK, maybe “good” isn’t the right word 🙂 I mean capable, competent and conscientous notwithstanding any ideological differences I might have with him.

      I still don’t see how he can fit it in with being leader of the borough council without one, other or both suffering at some point.

    • Danivon

      Peter – I recommend that you sign up to the site. Some will attack you, but there really are some people who are not happy with the Coalition, Smith or the local councils.

  • Danivon

    As I recall, Henry Smith was on the Borough Council and was leader at WSCC at the same time.

    • Skuds

      Indeed he was. And didn’t he last only a year before standing down from the borough job?

      That way round should have been a bit easier, because a) it was the same ward for both seats and b) fewer clashes – the evening CBC meetings wouldn’t have clashed with daytime WSCC-related meetings with officers, LGA, etc.

      Even so it was too much – and didn’t WSCC screw up big-time around then? Fastway project overspends and the like?

      Not a great precedent.

      • Danivon

        Well, I didn’t mention Henry because he was a good precedent, did I?

        Yep, he took his eye off the ball and didn’t notice a £6M overspend (well, that’s what the impression was, because the alternative is that he knew and hid it until after the General Election in 2005)

  • Richard W.

    I don’t think HS knew about the ‘Farceway’ overspend because he wasn’t told – which reflects very badly on HS himself as WSCC Leader & ‘The Elite’ who didn’t tell him.

    • Danivon

      I doubt it, Richard. Opposition councillors knew about it because a report came out before Easter 2005, and he announced his shock and surprise in June 2005.

      He would have had access to the report. And if he’d been on the ball, he’d have known that about half of the overspend had been known about for at least a year beforehand (and was public).

      So, if his surprise was genuine, it was completely down to him not bothering to look. Otherwise, it was false.

  • Richard

    Can’t argue with that Danivon.

    Then HS was just a small-puppet WSCC Leader – and now a big-puppet MP…

  • Colin

    I have some very good friends at WSCC, and some of the waste horror stories I’m told would make your hair stand on end. This from a ‘value’ Tory run council too. Millions gone in abandoned IT projects the taxpayer never gets to hear about, massive redundancy payoffs that would make Fred Goodwin raise a glass in solidarity. ‘Market Supplements’ of 20K+ for some managers for no apparent reason (actually the reason is that paying huge sums is supposed to guarantee the very best talent – it doesn’t – it just obscenely rewards the inadequate). All while real workers on the front line (e.g. Social Workers) struggle with a comparative pittance. I’m no Tory but it’s easy to take a potshot at Goldsmith in all this, but has anyone considered that the she might just have recognised the taxpayer being taken for a ride by lazy overpaid executives and senior managers at WSCC, who are too eager to pay ‘Management Consultants’ millions to describe what they should be able to work out for themselves?

  • Danivon

    Colin – Well, if you are right, you can’t blame the brand new Leader. However, the guy who was Leader for the preceding 9 year may have some responsibility?

    And if she’s not responsible for the culture she took over, she is most definitely responsible for how she deals with the Chief Executive.

  • Richard W.

    Tory WSCC Leader Louise Goldsmith “might just have recognised the taxpayer being taken for a ride” (Colin).

    Yeah right.

    The Tories have been in control at County Hall since I can remember…

    The words “Trough”, “Same” & “Pigs” come to mind.

    I don’t buy your explanation Colin, but I do believe your “waste horror stories”. You can add ‘Farceway’ & ‘Hot Meals’ to that list of stories – and I’m sure there are many more.

  • Colin

    Richard W – “The words “Trough”, “Same” & “Pigs” come to mind.” Maybe, but I like to reserve judgment until I hear Goldsmith’s side of the story. I’m sure those words are also used by Tory voters to characterise the last 13 years of the Labour party in central power too. We always need to hear both sides of the story no matter who we instinctively feel an affinity with or against.

    Don’t you find it a little odd that Goldsmith has gone down a route that definitely causes major embarrassment to Henry Smith MP? My point is Goldsmith wouldn’t just have done this for laughs and giggles, something must have happened or come to light to take action so radical.

    I agree with you on the waste issue, we only know about the tip of the iceberg. Oh and we can add a hugely costly original SAP mis-installation and then an expensive and ineffective project to try and correct the mistakes made in the first place.

    • Skuds

      “Don’t you find it a little odd that Goldsmith has gone down a route that definitely causes major embarrassment to Henry Smith MP?”

      Depends on whether you think he is liked by his erstwhile colleagues at County Hall doesn’t it? 🙂

  • Richard

    Colin, Tory WSCC Leader Louise Goldsmith has had ample time to give her “side of the story” – but she is refusing to do so…along with the rest of her political colleagues at County Hall – except Labour’s Brenda Smith.

    Remember, Tory Chairman Mark Dunn had already written to the Local Government Chief Executive Body asking/demanding Mark Hammond’s removal (as per West Sussex Gazette article). That body told him to get lost & go through proper legal procedures.

    For those with eyes to see, it is quite clear what is going on – and what is going on is a democratic obscenity.

  • Colin

    Skuds – face value political party friends really loathing each other in private is a fair point (Blair and Brown are good examples) but I still maintain that giving Henry a poke in the eye isn’t going to make you the most popular person with the current Tory Eton politburo.

    For me the biggest issue here is still exactly why Hammond has been sacked. Yes, it’s important proper procedures are followed with regard to removal of WSCC staff, but let’s be honest, in this case it’s simply the start of the dance in which Hammond ends up with a huge payoff and does very nicely out of it, thank you very much. Given the choice between a whopping quiet goodbye gift or standing up and fighting the council on a point of employment law and principle (lengthy with the distinct possibility of not ending up with as much in the pocket as walking away without a fight but with a backroom agreement) I’m betting that the former occurs – this is the way the CEO world works. And then it’s on to the next overpaid gig using the networks and contacts you’ve built up previously.

    Certainly the Comedy Council isn’t helping itself by letting the issue drift on, and it’s surely only a matter of time before the national press get hold of the story that Hammond is effectively being paid about a grand a working day to sit on his backside doing nothing.

    Richard – I had no idea about Dunns demands – that’s really interesting, do you have a link to the article?

    p.s. Great thread all btw – loving the discussion, this is a massive issue on all sorts of levels and it isn’t being properly examined to any great degree in either the press or the blogosphere (outside this one) at the moment.

    • Skuds

      Quite right. He will get a big payoff whatever happens, and that would have been the case under any circumstances except sacking for gross misconduct or similar. (Even then there would be a payout if it was not done right and fairly).

      If Goldsmith keeps up a wall of silence on this then she has to expect loads of speculation to fill the gap and it is a surprise there has not been more.

      Who would have thought that somebody else could come along and make a bigger mess of the county council than Henry Smith did?

      The silver lining is that all this should put a stop to any moves to make West Sussex a unitary authority!

  • Richard

    I agree with you Colin – this is a massive issue – especially for democracy, law, and how we deal with powerful bullies…

    The local corporate media are keeping quiet as usual – unsurprisigly – but there is an additional blogosphere contribution as well as this one :