Sunday, July 13, 2008

Feather bedding

I suppose one shouldn't be surprised to hear this story coming from Nottingham - the county that gave us Robin Hood - but in this post modern reinvention of the 12th century outlaw it's a case of robbing the poor to give to the rich.

The deputy chief executive of Nottingham City Council is to leave the authority with a package that will cost taxpayers up to £500,000.

The council is negotiating the departure of Adrienne Roberts (below), recruited just four years ago, as part of a management restructuring. Ms Roberts' payoff will be a proportion of her £140,000-a-year salary, as well as pension contributions to make up a shortfall that will result from her early retirement.

Early retirement, eh? And a no doubt very decent pension despite the "shortfall" - not bad for just four years in the job. If that wasn't bad enough .....

Her departure comes only months after that of former chief executive Michael Frater, forced to leave as the result of a fall-out with council leader, Jon Collins. He was the city's third chief executive to go in six years and received a payoff of £230,000.

If the latest deal is agreed, taxpayers will have paid out almost £1m in settlements to managers in the top two tiers of the city council since 2002

That's £1,000,000 of taxpayers money paid out to just a few people for doing nothing - and with council workers in the area set to strike over a 2.45% pay offer I can't really say I blame them. It must be infuriating to see all this money being wasted on getting rid of a few "executives" while you're being asked to take a below inflation pay rise.

That's the trouble with offering private sector contracts to attract people to public sector executive positions and trying to structure your council like some major private enterprise corporation.

First of all, the public sector is so bloated that you are bound to end up with a top heavy organisation stuffed full of unnecessary people who are very well paid and very hard to get rid of.

Secondly, councils are not, despite the budgets in their control or the workers they employ, major corporations. They are public bodies with a relatively simple task of managing a budget to provide services. I say relatively simple because they are not facing the challenges of a private enterprise - like competition, new products and innovations - so all they have to do is manage the money to provide required services. That is ALL they need to do. It isn't rocket science - it's simplicity in itself. It's what most of us do month to month, year to year in our own lives - just on a bigger scale. Don't let them fool you into thinking what they do is something marvellous and complicated - it isn't.

Finally, and perhaps crucially, the people you will attract to these positions will not be the "best" from the private sector. Far from it. The best will stay in the private sector where they are already recognised and well rewarded. What it will attract is the mediocre. Those people in the private sector who are for ever being passed over for promotion to the top jobs and quietly seethe as they wonder why. They'll be bombastic, pompous, bitter chancers with an over inflated opinion of themselves and an axe to grind.

Those sort of people will see the opportunity presented to them by these major pay deals being dished out at in the public sector as one last chance to feather their own bed and they'll take it.

If they were actually any good the private sector would offer them any incentive to stay. The fact they don't tells you all you need to know about the quality of people in the top jobs of your local council.

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