More about that pay award

You’re probably thinking that our frequent coverage of the council chief executive’s pay award is more than a bit boring.  In which case, the council will have achieved its objective of waiting for the public to lose interest.  It’s a good strategy – and it may well work.  It’s up to us all to make sure that it doesn’t.

Anyway, we’re posting this item now, as there are only a few hours left to watch the news item on ‘BBC South Today’ which highlights concern about the award.  Peter has provided this link to it: www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0007jlh  (Fast-forward by a little more than eight minutes to watch the relevant discussion.)

While we’re on this subject, below is the text of the e-mail that we sent all councillors at the outset.  One councillor was polite enough to reply, and we know that some are sympathetic to what we wrote.  But the Knoll Road fortress pulled up its drawbridge and the occupants are generally sheltering inside.  It would seem that a number of them are quoting the same text by the Conservative Group, which no longer refers to ‘pay’, but to ‘an additional duties allowance’.  Presumably they’re preparing to claim that procedures regarding increases in ‘pay’ don’t apply to ‘allowances’?

You’ll see that we called upon the current Leader to disown what seems to be a completely unacceptable act by their predecessor.  Predictably, they haven’t.  They’re tarred with the same brush, it seems.

“Councillors,

“I’m sure you’re fully aware of public disquiet over the Chief Executive’s salary increase.  Indeed, I believe that some of you share that disquiet.

“It’s not my intention here to question the size of the award – that’s a matter for another time.  But I have watched the council’s affairs for perhaps sixteen years, first as the chair of the Camberley Society, and more recently as the Camberley Eye.  I cannot remember any event during those years that has brought the council into such widespread disrepute.

“You know that some constituents are only too willing to accuse ‘the council’ of corruption and of acting in self-interest.  A belief that the salary increase was the ‘gift’ of the Leader, with no-one else involved, is likely to feed that suspicion for years to come.  Whenever the council says that it cannot afford to provide a service, or it increases council tax, residents will remember recent events, and the accusations will arise again. The damage that has been done is long term.

“In crisis management the normal advice is to over-react.  It is hard to recover from under-reacting.  I believe that the council – under your guidance – should follow this advice.  Specifically:

“- pay awards to senior council officers should always be publicised (not buried) on the council’s website – and also in Heathscene.  The full numbers should be explained simply (why is it that the Chief Executive has been paid far more than indicated in the council’s ‘pay scale’ document?  Isn’t this a nonsense?)

“- The Local Government Association strongly recommends using a remuneration committee.  Such a body – given a high-profile – should be set up to determine senior pay awards.  The council apparently has an Independent Remuneration Panel, but, as far as I can tell, the panel was not consulted about the Chief Executive’s award.

“- the fact that the chairs of every council committee come from the same party gives the impression of the same old nepotism, and it should be corrected.  It may be that the chairs are, in practice, often the best qualified to fill the roles, but they can still provide their expertise by supporting a leader from a different party.

“- at the individual level, the current Leader was the deputy of the previous Leader for years.  This suggests that they held the same views on many matters.  The new Leader MUST make it clear that they disown the action of their predecessor as far as the pay award is concerned, otherwise it would be reasonable to conclude that they support it.  (It would be a surprising breakdown in communication if the previous deputy did not know what their principal was doing.)  But I believe that the Leader has been mute, so far, about what has happened.  This is unwise.

“I suggest that the above be done openly, honestly, quickly and very visibly.”

SHBC; crisis mis-management, and a petition

The story of the pay rise awarded to the Chief Executive hasn’t yet reached a conclusion.

Below, we’re reproducing a comment about the pay rise that Peter put on this blog yesterday.  We’re doing this to ensure that his words are both highlighted and repeated on Facebook.

“There has been RADIO COVERAGE of this on BBC Radio Surrey, yesterday at 8am https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07hwr7v

“BBC Surrey – Breakfast on BBC Surrey, 08/08/2019
Mark Carter sits in alongside Lesley McCabe. Morning news, travel, weather and sport.  http://www.bbc.co.uk

“AND TONIGHT ON BBC SOUTH TODAY AT 1.30pm and 18.30pm.

“ALSO A PETITION HAS BEEN STARTED TODAY
https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/surrey-heath-borough-council-s-ceo-s-pay-increase-of-37-to-ps197-000

“If you feel able please sign it and then ask others in Surrey Heath to do the same.

“Hopefully this won’t go away until council taxpayers are satisfied that they have the full story.”

We wrote to all the borough councillors at the start of this saga.  Part of what we said was:  “In crisis management the normal advice is to over-react.  It is hard to recover from under-reacting.”  Clearly, the council didn’t understand this strategy – if it had ‘over-reacted’ at the outset by openly publishing a full explanation, there would have been no newsworthy story to broadcast on radio and TV.  The council would not have brought itself into such public disrepute.

However, the council is now attempting to regain control.  Its latest statement is “…a number of enquires have been received on the matter.[and] at the request of the Chief Executive, the Performance & Finance Scrutiny Committee will be asked to consider the appointment of an independent investigator to examine the procedure followed to award the additional duties allowance.”

Notice the word ‘procedure’.  We don’t want a witch-hunt, but if individuals showed a serious ‘error of judgement’, this has to be revealed.  The Scrutiny Committee’s responsibilities include to: “review and scrutinise the decisions made by and PERFORMANCE OF THE LEADER/EXECUTIVE/Portfolio Holders” so it would be in order to examine idividual performance as well as the procedures followed.

Further, we wrote to councillors: “The new Leader MUST make it clear that they disown the action of their predecessor as far as the pay award is concerned, otherwise it would be reasonable to conclude that they support it.”  As yet, the Leader (who, of course, was previously the Deputy Leader) has not done this, and the review as proposed by the Chief Executor would not examine their involvement.  This is unacceptable.

There are three immediate questions: who will write the terms of reference of the investigator? Will they be made public before they are finalised? How much will the investigator cost tax-payers?  Remember, if the council had only been open at the outset, the investigation would have been unnecessary.

An on-going puzzle is why councillors haven’t apparently triggered action by the Scrutiny Committee already.  We quote: “A scrutiny committee meeting may be called…. by any five councillors”.  Reassuringly, if five out of our thirty five councillors are not satisfied by the current situation, they can also call upon the Scrutiny Committee to act.  An interesting prospect ahead.

 

The Mews is just fading away

In writing the title of this item, we pondered whether ‘mews’ is singular or plural.  We’ve concluded that it’s singular, so we’ve written ‘Mews is’ rather than ‘Mews are’.  Anyway, we’re referring to the board bearing the name ‘The Mews’ on the outside wall of the boxing club, so ‘Mews is’ is probably correct regardless.

We reckon the sign must be deteriorating fairly quickly, for we don’t remember it looking quite so illegible before.

Did the Chief Executive’s pay rise comply with ‘the rules’?

We haven’t forgotten the recent disquiet over the council’s chief executive’s pay rise, and we’ll almost certainly keep commenting about it.  We believe that the council has to take action – voluntarily or otherwise – to earn public trust.

You will know that, almost certainly only because of the disquiet (the pay rise was apparently approved some six months before the council said anything publicly,) the council recently justified the pay rise by saying:

“In 2018 the previous Leader of the Council decided that a full review of the senior management structure was needed and should include consideration of the Chief Executive’s remuneration, which was last reviewed in 2004.

 “In early 2019 an allowance equivalent to £15,000 per annum was approved by the then Leader to recognise the additional work and responsibilities being undertaken by the Chief Executive.”

Now, of course, that might just have been carelessly written – though we doubt it.  But the wording gives no indication that anyone other than the Leader was involved in determining the size of the pay rise.  It gives no indication that there is any detailed record available of any analysis upon which it was based.  It gives no indication of any prior intent to explain the increase to residents.

If these indication are a true reflection of the actual circumstances, the Leader’s actions would almost certainly not be in compliance with the council’s own constitution, which states: “All decisions of the Council will be made in accordance with the following principles……due consultation and the taking of professional advice from officers; a presumption in favour of openness; providing information on the options considered and giving reasons for the decision taken”

The council’s constitution has further requirements regarding changes in the remuneration of council employees.  We’ll probably have to submit a Freedom of Information enquiry to find out whether these, and the constitution as a whole, were complied with.

We can find no response to the e-mail that we sent to the Executive Head of Finance enquiring about the rationale behind the pay rise.  We do not believe that the somewhat superficial statement that we’ve quoted above would be sufficient to satisfy an auditor.  Because residents have the right to make their views known to the council’s auditor, we will be writing again to the Executive Head requesting that he informs the auditor that, in our view, the latest Financial Statements provide insufficient information to justify the pay increase, and that, therefore, the auditor cannot provide assurance that the council provides good value for money.  The auditor can decide whether we’re over-reacting or not.

The council provides an official Complaints Procedure. .This has to be followed before submitting a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman, but it does mean that there are options for investigating the way the pay rise was approved and implemented.  .

The hole story

Two weeks ago we showed a photo of a hole at the edge of the roadway on the A30.  It wasn’t a pothole, it was more like a collapsed drain.  It had obviously been spotted/reported already, as it had plastic barriers around it.

Anyway, when we looked earlier this week, it was obvious that more than just the roadway was involved, as part of the pavement had been excavated as well.  However, we guessed that the drain, or whatever had caused the problem, had been repaired, for everything had been back-filled.

With luck the work will be completed soon – if it hasn’t been already – for the closed lane is the left-turn lane into the town centre.  We’ve seen motorists enter the lane, then have to swing out of it, and then turn sharply left once they’ve passed the obstruction.  When that happens, confusion reigns all round!

Jack Wills – a new owner

You may have missed events earlier this week.  We quote Monday’s Daily Telegraph:

“Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley has added yet another struggling clothing chain to his retail empire after acquiring Jack Wills for £12.7m. … The chain was put up for sale earlier this year by its private equity owner Bluegem Capital after racking up steep losses”

Let’s hope that our store – and its staff – are unaffected by this.  (Of course, Sports Direct is also the owner of the House of Fraser which it bought a year ago.)

Ten meters

We really like The Square’s Dino Live animatronics this summer.  With one little exception.  (Facebook readers, you may have to click on this item to see what we’re getting at.)

Our first photo is of one of the ‘stickers’ on the mall floor.  Our second picture shows what ten meters actually look like.

 

Come on, The Square.  Get your big fat felt tip pen out and correct the spelling.  It should be METRES.  Otherwise you’ll mislead our younger residents.

Positively the last word about the Chief Executive’s pay

In spite of the title of today’s item, we make no apologies for re-visiting the saga of the Chief Executive’s pay award.  There are several issues to address in this, one of our longer postings.  (We’ll revert to lesser matters tomorrow!)

Firstly, we’re providing a response to yesterday’s Eye item from a local councillor, secondly we’ll address suggestions that we should start a petition, and thirdly, some comments from the Eye about three ‘villains’!

To start, Councillor Betton has written to give us his views (we’ve had to shorten his message to help those who read on small screens.  You can find his full text HERE):

“As a newly elected LibDem Councillor in Surrey Heath, and the person who compiled the comparison of salaries for all of the Chief Executives in other Surrey Councils, I feel duty bound to comment. I like many others was amazed to see the significant increase in the SHBC Chief Executives remuneration as shown in the Draft Accounts.

“I chose “turnover” in my comparison as a measure of the size of organisation to see whether there was a correlation there.   I asked a number of individuals to advise on what I had found! I freely admit that I do not understand on what basis the salary increase was made, I have not been able to ascertain the process that was followed.

“Based on the information readily available, I do not understand how the salary of anyone in public office can be increased on the whim of one individual without any apparent reference to either the Executive or the Full Council. I have not been able to identify anything in the published procedures or Constitution of Surrey Heath Borough Council that allows or begins to explain what happened. All I know is that we as Liberal Democrats stood for election because we did not agree with what had been going on and now that we have been elected, it appears that no one knew what was going on. As Lib Dems, we will continue to try and unpick this unholy mess of process / procedure.”

Moving on to our second issue…  How about a petition?  Elsewhere we’ve admitted our prejudice, which is that we don’t think petitions achieve very much.  It’s too easy to sign something, or click on an on-line link;  it doesn’t need real commitment or any great strength of feeling.  Regardless of whether we’re right, a petition to the borough council, if thousands of people put their name to it, leads to a discussion at a meeting of the full council – ie all the councillors.  We’ve just short-circuited this process by writing to all the councillors directly.  Of course, this won’t result in them publicly discussing what we’ve written, but just maybe informal discussion will achieve more.  At some point, we’ll reproduce our message on this blog as a matter of record.

Finally, some thoughts about the ‘villains’.  There are, in our view, potentially THREE of them.  The former Leader is one.  Back in January we wrote an article titled ‘Is there something rotten in the state of Surrey Heath?’  This addressed – and we quote – ‘.. a councillor who seems to be taking on far more responsibility than they should’.  That councillor was, of course, the then-Leader.  We hadn’t, at the time, known that the councillor had shown a similar ‘excess of zeal’ with regard to the Chief Executive’s pay award.

Our second choice of ‘villain’ is, unavoidably, the Chief Executive herself.  In the January article to which we’ve just referred, we also criticised the council for allowing the councillor to take so much responsibility on herself.  We said ‘Doesn’t this suggest that the whole organisation – councillors and paid council staff [by implication, those at the top of the council] – has completely lost its way?’  It seems to us, that the Chief Executive’s errors of judgement extend to allowing the Leader to determine her pay award.  Did the Chief Executive not realise how the public would react to such an unwise process?

Something like three and a half years ago, we wrote an item ‘When is a chief executive past their peak?’  This was based on an article from the Harvard Business Review that concluded: “the longer a CEO serves, the stronger the bond between employees and the company becomes. However, a point is reached when the relationship between the company and its customers weakens, “and the company’s performance diminishes, no matter how united and committed the workforce is”.  In the current context, replace ‘company’ with ‘council’, and ‘customers’ with ‘residents’, and the quotation applies to us.  So the question is, when is that peak point reached?  The HBR conclusion was: ‘optimal tenure length: 4.8 years’.  As it happens, the Chief Executive had been in post at almost exactly that length of time when we wrote our item in 2016.

At last, our final ‘villain’.  We’re being a bit premature, perhaps, here.  Our current Leader was the deputy of the previous Leader for years.  The implication must be that they shared similar views.  So, potentially, our criticism of the previous Leader’s attitude applies to the current Leader’s attitude too.  Of course, this is tentative, but – and it is a big BUT – we’re not aware that the current Leader has said anything public about the pay award.  Unless they speak out soon, we’ll conclude that they do agree with how the award was made.

 

Chief Executive pay – more information

This is probably the first time that we have ever mentioned the same topic two days running.  But, following our article yesterday, the council published an explanation of the dramatic increase in the council’s chief executive’s salary.

We reproduce part of the explanation below (you can read the full text here – https://bit.ly/2Kni7gm).

“In 2018 the previous Leader of the Council decided that a full review of the senior management structure was needed and should include consideration of the Chief Executive’s remuneration, which was last reviewed in 2004.

“In early 2019 an allowance equivalent to £15,000 per annum was approved by the then Leader to recognise the additional work and responsibilities being undertaken by the Chief Executive. “

You will see that the increase seems to have been very much the ‘gift’ of the previous council Leader.  This goes completely against the expectation of openness.  We quote below a lengthy text written by the Local Government Association

“One of the key principles within the Localism Act is transparency. Council tax payers have a right to know how their money is being spent. All councillors should be able to justify salary levels paid to senior staff and feel confident in the rationale underpinning these decisions. Establishing a remuneration committee, common practice in the private sector, will go a long way to ensuring greater transparency when setting pay levels and provide a forum for robust challenge and regular scrutiny of the council’s policy.

“Using a remuneration committee, or equivalent, allows the council to consider its overall approach to pay and reward in an objective and transparent manner. The terms of reference for the committee will be specific to your council. Having a Remuneration Committee can help ensure that the council has a structured environment in which the council can consider its decisions on pay policy and strategy, allowing it to take into account key factors such as short term objectives and long term strategy, relevant market data, the total reward package, internal comparisons…” (You can find the full LGA document here: https://bit.ly/318GIwr)

Notice the above comment “ALL COUNCILLORS should be able to justify salary levels paid to senior staff”.  We have thirty five councillors and we  invite ANY of them to justify the increase.  Just comment on this blog/facebook/twitter item.  (If you CAN’T justify the increase, then do say so.  But we’ll be tempted to take silence as meaning that you can’t justify the increase but that you would rather not state your view in public.)