OK, let’s get to it, I’m about to make myself mightily unpopular once again!
You see the thing is, I trust the the Chief Executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, John van de Laarschot to deliver for us.
I trust him to do the right thing by the people of our City. I trust him to reduce the size of the workforce of the City Council, considerably.
Yes, I am aware that he has chosen to bring Vanguard in to encourage and to train the existing council staff in the methodology of ‘Lean Thinking’ and to help rid this authority of the huge amount of bureaucracy that prevents Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s customers from getting the best possible service.
We all know that bureaucracy exists, anyone who has had the mis-fortune to be put through to the Stoke On Call call centre and been asked endless amounts of meaningless and unhelpful questions, knows that. On one occasion whilst trying to get through to C&YPS I thought the operator was going to ask for my inside leg measurement, she wanted to know that much!.
John van de Laarschot is aware of many departmental failings. On Stoke on Call he said:
“The call centre is a disaster, but it is actually only one element of the disaster that needs to be sorted out. It is like TV’s The Office. If it wasn’t so terrible it would be laughable.”
He knows that the Council’s marriage to Kier was heading for divorce:
“The joint venture with Kier was not the smartest thing we have ever done. It doesn’t work for us and it doesn’t work for Kier. We had the opportunity of pulling away from the partnership, but we chose to tackle the issues and sort it out once and for all. But, if we can get it to work like a Swiss clock it will really benefit our communities.”
He knows that the Council is top heavy. He seems committed to ridding the City of those not up for the challenge to deliver change:
“I think this organisation is top-heavy with management and I can’t defend that. I will weed out those who are not up for challenge and who don’t have an appetite to serve our customers.”
He had the balls to pull out of the Strategic Partnership even though the Council had spent some £1.5million on it because in a very short time of being here, he knew it was doomed to failure.
So, are our councillors right to be wary of placing their trust in him? Yes – of course they are! Given the amount of senior officers and previous top dogs that have shown hostility to all those who seek to scrutinise, you can hardly blame them.
Previous incumbents of the top office in our city have treated those councillors outside [and some inside] the executive with complete disdain. They have been kept in the dark over many issues, they have been misled and in some cases intimidated.
Even at the call-in on the Vanguard issue on Monday 7th June, the call in councillors priority seemed to be the political direction of the Cabinet and the views of the relevant portfolio holders. They probed them to see if they really knew what the political implications were of the spending of this £400k of public money, or whether they were simply nodding through officers recommendations for the salary that comes with being a Cabinet member.
John van de Laarschot did not duck a single question, even when some rather rude member of the public barracked him as he tried to explain his reasons for wanting to press ahead at speed with his Transformational Change Programme.
When he was appointed a number of our councillors rang me and made comments like: ‘he was the man’, ‘you couldn’t pull the wool over his eyes’, ‘he’s a smart cookie with a sound business background’, ‘he’s capable of thinking out of the box’ and my very favourite ‘he’s a breath of fresh air’.
Well it’s time to back him [there's that trust thing again] or sack him!
If he is a breath of fresh air then let’s give him the chance of rationalising the council workforce and making the services delivered the best and most efficient that they can be. Let him rid the Civic of the polluting stench of incompetence
The Transformational Change programme needs to be completed as soon as possible. When it is finished the elected members, working in collaboration with committed service driven officers, will be best placed to make the relevant and most sensitive cuts.
Every message that comes out of the national ConDem coalition government screams cut, cut, cut!
Stoke-on-Trent City Council need to be a lean, mean, first class service machine. They need fit for purpose for surely what will be one of the most difficult times that local government is facing for many, many years.
To get there, if they have to spend some £400k on companies like Vanguard who John van de Laarschot has used in the past and obviously trusts and the consultants from the Local Government Partnerships to save up to £60million in the future, then I say let him lead.
He trusts those who have delivered for him in the past and I think we should all put our trust in him to do the right thing for the City of Stoke-on-Trent.
Let’s be honest, if he fails, then we can trust our esteemed elected members of all political persuasions… To kick his ass out of the door! – Can’t we?