Cllr Susan Hall is Leader of the Conservative Group on Harrow Council
Across the country, councils are looking for inventive ways to save money, and abolishing Chief Executives roles is an increasingly common way to do it – most recently followed by Labour-controlled Knowsley Council in Merseyside. The idea featured prominently in Eric Pickles’s ’50 Ways to Make Savings’ publication because not only does it save substantial sums of money, it can do as such without impacting services.
Therefore, one of the most significant decisions made by Harrow’s previous Conservative administration was to abolish our Chief Executive position – saving over £1 million over four years. Now, the council’s new Labour administration has restored the position and will vote to re-recruit the previous post holder next week. They’ve made this decision despite coming to the end of a consultation exercise in which they are asking residents which beloved or much-needed services they wouldn’t mind to see cut or decimated entirely.
In order to pay for their Chief Executive Labour will close our heritage sites, cut street cleaning or reduce care for the disabled. About a month after they took control, Labour launched a consultation on whether to restore the position or not – a consultation that was only open to staff, councillors and trade unions – not residents.
When we challenged this decision, their Deputy Leader said it was because residents “don’t understand” enough about the issue to be consulted. In the end fewer than ten per cent of staff bothered to respond, and those that did were 2 to 1 in favour of restoring the role – though it’s worth nothing that when local paper the Harrow Times polled their readers and residents, the result was reversed.
Naturally there’s no evidence that restoring the role is needed, and Labour ignored the only independent assessment available to them from Deloitte, the council’s auditors, who said they couldn’t find any weaknesses at all in the new system we’d put in place.
When we abolished the Chief Executive position in Harrow, it wasn’t a decision taken lightly or without consideration, but we felt it was the right way forward – balancing making savings with protecting services.
The system we put in place was working, and our auditors confirmed it. However, whereas our Cabinet provided strong and focused leadership, Labour’s does not – which is perhaps why they now feel the need to pay someone £25,000 more than the Prime Minister to tell them what to do. Unfortunately, it’s the hard-pressed residents of Harrow who will have to foot the bill for Labour’s inability to lead and make decisions.