Monday, 13 January 2020

Andrew Cooper Speech to Kirklees Full Council 15/1/2020 - Corporate Peer Challenge - Kirklees Council

The Corporate Peer Challenge Report on Kirklees Council produced during their visits back in July is a really interesting read conducted by Councillors and Senior Officers from around the country. As you would expect it is a mixture of good and less good and areas for improvement. That is the point of the exercise. There’s praise in the report for the Chief Executive and the Council Leader and recognition for the ambition in the Huddersfield Blueprint. There are also observations and  suggestions for changes.

One of the most perplexing statements in the report for me was this one,

“ The Cabinet and senior leadership team work well together, however sharper delineation of roles between Cabinet Members and senior officers needs to be articulated as there is some confusion between the roles of Members and officers. Members should develop policy and officers should implement and deliver it.”

Talk about stating the rather obvious! What could have prompted such a statement. Perhaps things like when senior officers do the media and TV interviews particularly when there is bad news. It also indicates to some degree that there is a lack of political direction in the cabinet or parts of the cabinet. This is worrying. People go to a lot of trouble to get elected So if and when they are and they don't have an agenda and are simply officer lead it is disappointing and a waste of peoples valuable votes.

The action to address this point that the Council has decided to take makes no reference to the Cabinet at all and instead defaults to addressing the relations between all members and officers. This is wilfully and conveniently misinterpreting the recommendation from the Peer Review Team.

Another part of the report states that

"The business community is keen to work with the Council and its voice needs to be strengthened as currently they feel outside the tent."

I guess this may reflect the poor communication that many indoor market traders feel they have had regarding their future in the Huddersfield Blueprint. Or perhaps the creation of One Huddersfield and the excellent work they do is partly a reflection of the need for business to develop a stronger voice when dealing with the Council. Of course there is a danger that if you have a "We know best" approach you are by your very nature going to exclude all sorts of people, businesses, Councillors from other parties and anyone who disagrees with you. Maybe the statement in the Report that says there is a

"outmoded paternelistic approach which the peer team heard still exists in some parts of the organisation"

is a big part of the problem and if that is reflected in some Senior Politicians then that is a cause for concern and stands in the way of us being a modern forward thinking Council that is open not only for business but for fresh ideas and approaches.

The Peer Report also asked us to review our electoral arrangements

"Consider reviewing the electoral cycle to bring it in line with councils that have adopted a longer, more stable electoral pattern with the strong leadership model".

The UK Government has a 5 year cycle (usually!) North Yorkshire County Council has 4 year electoral cycle, many Principal Councils have a 4 year electoral cycle, our Parish Councils have a 4 year electoral cycle but not us. I appreciate the arguments made about accountability to electors but former leaders and Chief Executives of this Council have identified the continual cycle of annual elections as a barrier to good and sometimes difficult decision making. I also think we will have better quality elections if we have them every 4 years. Parties will be able produce manifestoes that demonstrate a programme of activity that could seek radical and positive change. Timidity and risk averse decision making would be less likely. As the report says

"The peer team identified a lack of risk appetite in the Council, which could constrain the Council’s pace and ambition. A bolder approach to risk and opportunity is required throughout the organisation and existing governance processes should be strengthened to support this.” 

So my suggestion would be that we establish as well as the Corporate Risk Register we already have a Corporate Opportunities Register where we systematically look at the opportunities that this Council could take to put up front to Councillors showing what we could do if we had the capacity and political will to do so.

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