Political Leadership and City Regeneration Part 2

In the previous post we examined Mike Tappin’s critique of Stoke-on-Trent’s political leadership and looked at some of his recommendations. Continuing this theme, albeit on a broader canvas, on 14th December I was invited to the Centre for Cities-organised Rebuilding Britain’s Cities: Lessons from the UK and US event at Portcullis House in London to launch their latest report, Grand Designs? A new approach to the built environment in England’s cities. By addressing the thorny issue of regeneration strategy it immediately brought to the fore the problems Mike tackled – of direction, vision, and, most importantly, where the impulse for regeneration would
come from. It was in this vein the discussion’s chair, Stoke Central MP Tristram Hunt, opened with, noting that the government’s spending cuts means there is little or no role the public sector can play in regenerating cities.

The morning’s first speaker was Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities. Grand Designs? set out to assess existing regeneration strategies and asked if they achieved the best possible outcomes for the people and built environment of declining cities. It was also interested in how cities adapted to changing population trends, whether strategies were often political exercises in official optimism, and what lessons can medium-sized cities take on board from elsewhere.

Alexandra observed that populations tend to migrate to clusters of economic activity, which helps explains current population decline in the north of England. But the developmental model this implies, i.e. industrial growth followed by postindustrial depopulation, is not an iron law of economics or anything else. Large cities of the Midlands and the North have bucked this trend to an extent because they have adapted to the new climate.

Why have they been successful while others haven’t? Alexandra suggested that much of the built environment of northern cities is not appropriate to the demands of the postindustrial economy, and neither were some of the regeneration programmes. Centre for Cities found that on the indicators used to measure the predicted positive impacts, nearly half (48%) of physical regeneration projects underperformed. Similarly of economic strategies aimed at revitalising particular areas, 40% failed to meet job creation targets. As a way of illustrating the disconnect between strategy and economic/demographic reality, one such scheme saw the building of 12,000 new properties in Liverpool … while over the same period 5,000 people left the city.

One possible way of coping with city decline is to swim with the tide rather than stubbornly setting one’s face against it. Instead of a ‘build it and they will come’ approach, Alexandra pointed to a number of examples from overseas. Youngstown, Ohio has received attention for its adoption of ‘smart decline’. Rather than planning for growth (in 1950 there were 172,000 inhabitants, by 2000 only 82,000) it has allowed nature to reclaim run down neighbourhoods and is concentrating resources on core infrastructures (see here). Variations on this theme have been tried elsewhere. Flint, Michigan has aggressively moved to demolish vacant properties so public services don’t have to stretch so far. Philadelphia has transformed its vacant lots into green spaces, which in turn has increased land values and seen people beginning to return to what has become a more desirable
city.

Off the back of these exampled and the lessons learned from UK regeneration, Alexandra suggested five guiding principles for regeneration strategies:

a) The built environment must adapt to economic and population change.
b) Strategies must be focused on the best outcomes for people: mega projects are of limited utility.
c) Regeneration needs to be sensitive to and tailored toward the needs of different neighbourhoods within cities.
d) Community engagement is essential and not an optional extra.
e) Circumstances should be kept under constant review: a regeneration process has to have some flexibility built in.

The next speaker was Bruce Katz from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, a Washington DC-based think tank. His talk focused on the experience of South East Michigan and how it is meeting the ‘new economy’. Here there are a number of things going on that lend themselves to regenerating UK cities. The first is the role of philanthropy. In the US there is almost a cultural expectation that business elites “give something back”. In SE Michigan’s case this has assumed the form of a $100m fund raised from the largesse of wealthy philanthropy. This fund is too small to address all the problems of such a vast territory, but what it has been doing is providing grants to new start ups as a means of kick starting the internal economy, of strengthening organic processes of recovery and, hopefully, producing a raft of new businesses with commitments to the region.

Secondly, in the wake of the recession local businesses have been forced to think strategically about the future. Before the 2008 crash, under the conditions of the housing-led consumption bubble the SE Michigan economy could not compete. Now that has collapsed there are a number of advantages it has over places like, say, Las Vegas, who did extremely well under the old model. Key to prospering in the global economy now are design and innovation, advanced manufactories, low carbon and green technologies. If recovery is to be export-led then Detroit, which didn’t look healthy under the previous regime of accumulation, is now very well-placed: it is the 12th largest exporting economy in the United States. Hence regeneration policy now is about repositioning and retooling old industrial cities and making the most of what they’ve got.

Therefore Bruce’s lessons were, firstly, the emphasis on economy. Land interventions – whether demolition, refurbishing housing stock, or building a mega project – must be tied into the economic context. If there is a disconnect then chances are they won’t succeed. Secondly local government and regeneration planners have to think about different economic models. The assumptions underpinning renewal strategies of the boom years are outdated. If export growth is the way out of economic stagnation then appropriate policy responses at the local and regional level have to be developed and implemented.

The morning’s final speaker was Newsnight economics editor (and occasional leftist) Paul Mason. He played a short piece taken from his film on Gary, Indiana. This once-booming industrial city has seen its population fall by half from its 1950s peak to just 100,000 today. On his blog Paul describes Gary as a city “suffering from one of the most advanced cases of urban blight in the developed world. Its city centre is near-deserted by day. The texture of the urban landscape is cracked stone, grass, crumbled brick and buddleia.” Since its heyday deindustrialisation has literally pulled the guts out of the city, leaving it populated by hundreds of abandoned buildings, among which are colleges, schools, and other trappings essential to the infrastructure of any modern city.

For Paul, Gary is locked in a spiral of depopulation and decapitalisation. The collapse of industrial employment triggered the decline, but subsequent depopulation has meant the critical mass of organic social capital isn’t there to help the city help itself. But this is a question of distribution rather than total sum. In most former industrial cities social capital (the cultural ties that bind communities together, make them cohesive, and enable them to do things – see here) have high levels of social capital thanks to the social solidarities that grew up in the previous era. It does tend to be highly localised and often obstructed by the atomisation of populations and, in Gary’s case, high levels of crime and morbidity. Therefore recovery strategies have to think about mobilising and harnessing this capital.

Paul suggested the means of accumulating social capital lends itself to the new economy (at least the creative, innovation-driven side of it). He argued the semi-private spaces of coffee shops, shopping centres, library IT suites, cyber cafes accommodate the nomadic workspaces of those whose working life is, in large measure, portable and dependent on internet access. Whether at work or play these are becoming sites where new social relations are forged in conjunction with the new economy, from which all kinds of real world cultural and business spin offs can emerge. He suggested one way of fostering this sort of micro climate would be for local authorities to open up empty shop fronts for use as informal work spaces.

Tristram then opened the the discussion up to questions. One representative from a city that has been through a successful regeneration process asked how to make the connect between existing “low aspiration” residents and the new hi-tech, high-innovation economy his city has managed to grow? Where does the aspiration to be socially mobile come from? Rupa Huq raised the issue of the place suburbs occupy in regeneration strategies, and observed the official optimism that conditions all projects is an effect of politics, of the need to promise the electorate a pot of gold at the end of the regeneration rainbow. But often this flies in the face of realities local governments face. In my contribution, I picked up on Paul Mason’s argument and said his concern with social capital is focused on the working and middles classes (from which his new intellectual workers are overwhelmingly drawn), but what
about the level of elites? They network among themselves but how to get their accumulation of social capital to trickle down to contribute to the cultural renewal of declining cities? Is it possible?

On suburbs Alexandra Jones replied that, generally speaking, big employers tend to locate in or very near a city centre because of its amenities. She cited one example where, during the construction boom, one company threw up grade A office space in a suburban location and has since remained empty. Therefore building projects have to be tailored to people and economics, otherwise it’s a waste of time. But she fully agreed with Rupa on optimism. There is a conflict between the realistic, pragmatic approach to regeneration and its politics. As difficult local authorities and politicians may find it, some honesty has to be injected into the expectations they project. On local elites, Bruce Katz recommended trying to pool what philanthropy exists and suggested universities play a good role in facilitating this. And on aspiration, Paul Mason reiterated his points on social capital, calling for more ‘local capital markets’ where this can grow.

There was an awful lot to digest from this session and a great many things that could inform regeneration policy in Stoke. Like other industrial cities its population has been in measured but long term decline. There have been clearances of old terraces but without the building of new commensurate homes. Instead there was, until recently, a move to provide the sorts of identikit urban flats as well as modern three and four bed room semis and detached housing. Before the housing pathfinder scheme was junked by government cuts there were more plans for more new builds of this type. Now this is not going to be built for the foreseeable future, the Stoke-on-Trent city scape is blighted with voids. Small wonder Matthew Rice, MD of local pottery firm Emma Bridgewater, recently compared the local built environment to Helmand province. And, at present, there
is nothing coming from the City Council on what should be done with these sites. That is apart from planting down clovers to keep the ground uneven so kids don’t play on them (for arcane legal reasons, of course).

There there are our own mega projects. A hypermodern campus for Stoke Sixth Form College has recently opened on Leek Road, and next door to it Staffs University are building a science and technology innovation centre. These do seem like the sort of things the city needs, especially as the latter will be part and parcel of the university’s continued commitment to providing ‘incubation units’ for graduate start ups. But the other mega project due to arrive – a new bus station in Hanley (current one pictured) – appears to suffer the hubris that comes with building-led regeneration. Its replacement, which looks swish and modern, apparently promises to bring more investment into the city. As welcome as a replacement for the awful and shabby bus station is, I am worried there is more than a soupçon of official optimism swirling
around. For starters which ever way you arrive at the bus station you have to first go through the aforementioned blighted lands and derelict properties. When your official gateway is prefaced by devastation will potential investors come away with a favourable impression? As for utility, it will certainly create the space to improve Stoke’s public mass transit and, who knows, perhaps it might win a major architectural prize, but does it meet the city’s current and likely future needs? I’m not entirely convinced.

This returns us to the question of political leadership. If Stoke (or any other city in a similar position) is to be renewed, questions have to be asked about what kind of regeneration it wants, what economic advantages it has that can be capitalised on in the new climate, what can be done to sponsor “homegrown” growth and, ultimately, what is the realistic assessment of its prospects. I think Stoke’s transport links, pottery industry, social solidarities, and growing educational capacity are grounds for optimism. Even the space left by clearances could be turned to its advantage. But unless the city intelligently, creatively, carefully, and pragmatically addresses the challenges facing it, there’s every danger the promise of a regenerated Stoke-on-Trent is one that goes unfulfilled.

Stoke-on-Trent – Political Leadership and City Regeneration Part 1

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been on a short adventure in city regeneration policy. A fortnight ago I was down at Portcullis House in the Big Smoke for a morning discussion on ‘Rebuilding Britain’s Cities: Lessons from the UK and US’.

The Friday before saw a day conference at Keele on the ‘Socio-Political Challenges of Medium-Sized Cities’ concentrating on neighbourhoods, health, and political leadership. The changes to health policy and the persistence of areas associated with deprivation, unemployment, crime, high morbidity were discussed in some rigorous detail, but I would like to concentrate on that day’s final paper by former MEP and council leader, Mike Tappin. His topic not only serves as a bridge to the Portcullis House discussion but is one of crucial importance for all cities negotiating the treacherous rapids of regeneration: the problem of political leadership.

Mike’s paper, ‘The Governance Challenge for Stoke-on-Trent: A Study of System, Economic and Political Failure’ didn’t pull any punches. It really was look at the multiple contributors to Stoke’s decline. First, Mike flagged up the spatial dimension. Rather than following the “traditional” centre/periphery model of cities, Stoke is a polycentric city. It is as if drawn out along a South East to North West axis. It comprises the six towns that federated to form Stone-on-Trent in 1910, but in practice (according to previous work undertaken by Mike) the city is sub-divided into 56 more or less discrete “villages”, which lends The Potteries a very strong cultural and political localism. This is reinforced by the bypassing of Stoke-on-Trent by the M6, poor internal road networks (for example, Potteries Way – the inner city ring road – has been only half built for over 20 years), and a not altogether praise-worthy public transport system. When 34% of city households are without a car this is a big problem.

Like many medium-sized industrial cities Stoke has suffered economic decline. In the 1950s 70,000, 10,000+, and 20,000+ were employed in ceramics, steel, and mining respectively. By 2001 those figures stood at 6,000, 200, and zero. In the 1971-81 period (before Thatcherism began to bite), that decade saw the loss of 28,000 manufacturing jobs and the closure of two local collieries. Also because of the dependence on the potteries, Stoke possessed a counter-cyclical economy. When Britain entered into recession the devaluation of sterling boosted Stoke’s exports abroad, allowing it to buck the trend. Since 1981, for all intents and purposes the potteries are the only significant economic survivor of the early period. Manufacturing – including ceramics – accounts for below 20% of local employment. Distribution and retail have taken up the slack of private employment.

The unemployment figures more explicitly tell the story of Stoke’s decline. In the 50s and 60s unemployment averaged at around 3% – roughly 2,500 people. Through the 70s to most of the 1990s it hovered around the UK average, but in this last decade it has become a major problem. In February 2009, at the start of the recession, 24.1% of the workforce were unemployed, and 43% of that jobless total had been out of work for five years or more. Taking together JSA, incapacity benefit, and income support 55,550 people were dependent on benefits in some way in North Staffordshire. For Mike, this has bred a ‘culture of contentment’ whereby aspirations are atuned to the income one receives from benefits, therefore helping to culturally lock Stoke into a perpetual cycle of economic water treading. This can be seen in educational attainment. Whereas the West Midlands average for NVQ levels 2, 3 and 4 are 61.6, 42.3 and 24.5 for the working age population, in Stoke it’s 53.8, 32.3 and 14.4.

Mike argues the city’s economic problems are exacerbated by its political difficulties. From 1977-96 Stoke was governed by the County Council situated in Stafford, reducing the Potteries to the status of a district council. This led to a two-tiered political culture where the brightest and the best “went south” while the “b team” remained at home. In 1996 the city was made a unitary authority (Mike would have preferred a broader N Staffs authority commensurate with the city’s economic footprint) and off the back of the national wave against the Tories, Labour romped home that year with 60 councillors to nil. From 2000 on the Labour party begins imploding, seeing its vote collapse from 40.75% at the start of the decade to just 25% in 2008. Matters aren’t helped by a switch to an elected mayoral system in 2002, only for it to switch back six years later. Independents and the BNP started making inroads at Labour’s expense, but were checked at the 2010 local election. Labour gained 13 councillors off the back of the general election turn out, and has since recruited another councillor who crossed the floor. Labour now governs in a coalition with Conservatives and Independents alliance, LibDems and the City Independent group.

So much for the form of local politics. What of their content? Mike identified five interrelated problems. One, the poor quality of local councillors. Two, a clear lack of bold strategic thinking in any of the local parties. Three, the culture of localism. Fourth, the absence of a civically-minded educated middle class. And lastly, the tendency of the system and parties to store up long term political animosities.

On top of political instability, there has been a constant churn in the city’s administration. Between 2001-10, the council got through six chief executives, five directors of social services, and three finance officers. This lack of inbuilt expertise has seen the council pay out (on average) £6m annually to various consultancies. Even worse, up until the government’s bonfire of the quangos, city governance was parcelled out among the city council, the Renew Housing Partnership, the N Staffs Regeneration Partnership, and Local Strategic Partnerships. It’s pretty clear who was responsible for the traditional functions of local government, but which body was in charge of the regeneration process?

These problems have been partially addressed by a governance commission that was appointed in 2007. Its brief was:

1) To consider options about future governance arrangements for Stoke-on-Trent Council to deliver that strong, effective and accountable leadership that the city needs to address the economic, social and cohesion challenges which it faces.
2) To give consideration to governance across the wider public/private sector and to the importance of economic regeneration and community cohesion.
3) To consider the relationship between Stoke-on-Trent and the wider sub-regional/regional/national bodies including other Local Authorities and their partners within the region.

It recommended the setting up of a further body – the ‘transition board’ – to make further recommendations for sorting out the city’s governance. It concluded by favouring all-out four-year elections, single member wards, fewer councillors, member development, more devolved decision-making, working to improve the council machinery, and improving community engagement. After much wrangling councillors will be reduced from 60 to 44, and council ward boundaries redrawn with the majority of them becoming single member (owing to behind the scenes fudges, some will move to two member wards, and one will remain three member). For Mike this strikes at the root of many of the petty rivalries that have grown up between councillors representing the same patch, and the move to four-yearly allows the necessary space for longer term strategic planning.

But this doesn’t go far enough. He would like to see the council concentrate on core functions and facilitate voluntary organisations and social enterprises take over some of the ancillary services it currently provides. He wants to see a drive to develop the civic capacity of Stoke’s communities to produce the ambitious and competent cadre of politicians the city needs.
And Mike also called for more cooperation between N Staffs councils, businesses, quangos and other interested bodies to deliver a proper plan for the city and its hinterland.

While I didn’t agree with all of Mike’s presentation, it did provide plenty of food for thought. Regards ‘civic capacity’ this is where political parties come in. At the moment Stoke Central CLP is in the process of renovating itself. For the first time in years it’s been conducting regular political work inbetween elections, which is starting to reap the benefits from in terms of new recruits and, for want of a better word, “reconnection”. Similarly internally the party’s rolling out a programme of political education in conjunction with activism to develop all members’ strengths. The culture of bureaucracy and deference is slowly being eroded, allowing space for new members to grow and assume responsibilities. But this process is long, slow and painstaking.

A civic culture is, according to Will Hutton, one of the “soft” cultural props a successful and sustainable capitalism depends on (and, I would argue, an essential component for socialism too – but we’ll leave that by the by for now). Its absence in Stoke is one of the contributing factors to a generalised lack of internal capital accumulation that could see the city out of its doldrums. Therefore this isn’t just a problem that can be boiled down to atomised working class communities and privatised individuals: it’s one that afflicts existing business elites too. I don’t want to say much more as I’m involved in a couple of projects on the issue of civic culture and political participation, but as we shall see in the next post, there are important lessons that can be drawn from American experiences of declining cities.

Lastly, one cannot disagree with Mike’s view of time-scale. Whatever regeneration strategy tickles your political fancy it has to be long-term and consistently pursued. I grew up in and around Derby. Though it has its own set of problems and advantages, 20 years of consistent and tenacious pursuit of a coherent regeneration strategy has transformed the city to the point where it has the highest workplace wage base outside the South East. While Stoke’s situation is such that it’s unlikely to achieve parity with its more affluent neighbour, it is a useful exemplar of what vision and determination in local government can do.

Meadow Lane Estate ““ the residents speak out on ward boundaries

The Meadow Lane estate is in Trentham, just North of Longton Road, at the border with the current Blurton ward, separated from it by the railway line.

On 4th January 2010 a public meeting was held at Trentham High School, organised by ordinary residents in the Meadow Lane area of Trentham, about the council’s views on new ward boundaries.

I was so heartened to see this happen, an issue crops up in the community and I counted about 70 of us who were concerned enough to turn out on a very cold evening to discuss it. Many were from the Meadow Lane estate most affected but I noticed a fair few of us there from other parts of Trentham.

Dan Jordan, chair of the Save Trentham High Action Group, spoke first and said that after saving our high school, local residents remain concerned about the whole community.

Ward councillor Terry Follows attended the meeting and conveyed apologies for absence from the other ward councillors Ross Irving and Roger Ibbs.

The council’s initial proposal had been for the Meadow Lane estate to become part of the new Blurton Farm, Newstead & Trentham Lakes ward, in order to get the right number of electorate in each single member ward. The council would have then recommended that the rest of the current Trentham & Hanford Ward be split into two; Hanford & Trentham Ley and Trentham South. Terry reported that the transition board had been brought in to gerrymander the wards and that he and our other ward councillors all agreed on not wanting the Meadow Lane Estate left out. Following consultation the current council recommendation is to keep the Trentham & Hanford boundaries as they are now but have it as a two member ward rather than a three member ward.

Grace Jordan explained that we should all submit our views direct to the Boundary Committee by January 11th, because they look at all the submissions they receive, including the council’s and ours, deliberate for 14 weeks, then publish their proposal. They may visit. At that stage we can comment again on their proposals. Tim Bowden from the Boundary Committee is aware of our discussions. The Boundary Committee will make the final decision in October.

A resident stressed the importance of individual letters to the Boundary Committee.

Terry suggested that the Meadow Lane area may wish to form a residents’ association and could contact him if they would like to.

A resident complained that he had requested maps from the council but these had not been provided.

Dan, despite “not trying to get too political about it” said that we need to be careful about our future, the transition board including Mike Tappin had wanted to socially engineer us by trying to combine two schools. Dan also said though that under the council’s proposal we would get double the number of councillors we currently have in the ward, given what Ibbs and Irving are like.

An individual in the know who shall not be named said that only 170 people had responded to the council consultation, consultations tend to be run over the holidays for very short time periods. He pointed out that officers run Stoke-on-Trent council and that Roger Ibbs and Ross Irving had been instrumental in devolving council powers to the officers.

The meeting voted on the council proposal for a two member ward retaining the current Trentham & Hanford boundaries. A large majority voted for this, nobody voted against.

The council will consider and vote on their submission to the Boundary Committee, which includes this recommendation, at the meeting at the Civic Centre at 2.30pm on Thursday 7th January. I pointed out that the public may observe this meeting if they are available at that time.

A show of hands indicated that about 60 of us intend writing individual submissions to the Boundary Committee.

SUNDAY DEBATE: Nice work – if you can get it!

We published this article a few days ago, but we thought we would push it up the page and use the contents as a topic for a good old fashioned debate.

Comment By - Tony Walley

Tony Walley

Comment By Tony Walley.

We published this article a few days ago, but we thought we would push it up the page and use the contents as a topic for a good old fashioned debate.

Something for the weekend -ahem!

Transition Board.

There has been some confusion as to whether the members of the Transition Board are being paid or not.

I can reveal that the answer is some are and some are not.

There is an allowance of £4000pa which has now been paid to those members who have filled the appropriate forms in. One person who has chosen not to take this allowance is former Labour Group Leader Mike Tappin. I think he should be applauded for this.

Now you either love or loathe Mike Tappin but as I have said on this site before, if the Transition Board were made up of Mike Tappins, I for one would have no issue with it.

I think politics to one side, Mike is probably on of the most experienced politicians ever to represent this city. A former MEP and councillor who was one of the few of his kind who truly understands local government finance. Mike has come in for a bit of criticism on this site particularly from the members of the far right and that is fine as long as we concentrate of political differences rather than the personal attacks. This is what often brings this site down, the meaningless, frankly boring personal stuff rather than focusing on the policies and political issues.

Never the less this £4000pa paid to those who have chosen to accept it. For a board that is not obliged to publish official minutes of their meetings [they publish notes]. The burning question about the TB is as before. How were these people selected? Did they apply and if they did, who did they apply to? What selection criteria was used to ensure the right people were appointed?

The board is made up of the following people:

As I say I have no issues will those on the Board with the experience of the Mike Tappin’s of the world but, I have yet to be convinced that some of the characters on there can make a real difference, or am I being unfair?

The funding for paying this allowance comes from the West Midlands Regional Efficiency Partnership and as such does not come out of the city council budget.

Links

Stoke-on-Trent Governance Transition Board

NSRP Chair.

Another post that would be attractive to those who are seeking maximum return for minimum commitment is the creation of a paid Chairman for the North Staffs Regeneration Partnership [NSRP] It seems that this is to go before the cabinet at their next meeting.

This successful applicant is to be paid £24,000 per year for just 4 days work per month!

Now I know that Cllr Mick Salih raised this issue several times in the council chamber. He mentioned that this post could pay £20000 per year, well I can’t imagine that he is too happy to learn that this paid position will carry a salary of some £4000 above that!

Mick has always argued that the chair of the NSRP should be the political leader of our council chamber and that it should not be a paid position as it should come under the responsibility of the council leader’s remit.

The report going before the cabinet will recommend that:

The Cabinet is asked to note the arrangements for the recruitment and appointment of an independent Chair of the North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership (NSRP), and (acting in its capacity as Accountable Body for the NSRP) to endorse the following
NSRP Boards decisions:-

a) That the Chair will be appointed for a term of between 3 and 6 years;

b) That a stipend of £24,000 per annum will be payable provided that the successful candidate is not an elected Member or an Officer of a Local Authority;

c) That the partners share the recruitment costs and the annual cost of the stipend as set out in the report, and;

d) That an appointments panel be established to oversee the recruitment process, to conduct interviews and to appoint the Chair of the NSRP for such term and upon such conditions as it considers appropriate (having regard to recommendations (a) and (b) above) . Such appointments panel shall comprise the Interim NSRP Chair, Mr Ian Dudson, and representatives of the following partner organisations – Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, Staffordshire County
Council, Advantage West Midlands, and the Homes and Community’s Agency.

It would appear that the recruitment process will cost in the region of £30,000 and will be carried out by Penna [the company that handled the appointment of the chief executive]. The position will be advertised in the Sunday Times and Regeneration and Renewal, [so it's no good looking in the Sentinel on a Wednesday]. The job is advertised on the Penna Executive Recruitment  website but with no publicly available details

It is suggested that the cost of recruitment is borne by the City Council [from NSRP budget] and that the stipend is shared between key partners, on a third each basis between the City Council, HCA, and AWM as set out in the report.

I have a couple of questions, who came up with the salary level for this position? And did it take into account that the commitment in relation of time is just four days a month?

You can bet that this will cause a stir at the next full council meeting.

Interim Chief Executive.

Now a lot has been made of the fact that out-going Interim Chief Executive Chris Harman is not at his desk holding the reigns while the new CE John van de Laarschot’s release from Torridge is being negotiated. Indeed a source has informed me that Chris is actually away on leave in Dubai.

There has been an outcry at the fact that he is looking for a pay off to go. This all comes down to what is written in the contract that covered Chris whilst he was Interim CE. Contracts of this nature normally have a clause built into them that would stipulate a notice period and I would guess that could be in the region of 3 months.

Chris will also have a contract as the deputy CE and again, depending on what this contract requires there will be a clause which will allow either the authority or the individual to leave with some period of notice.

Now, I’m not saying it is right or wrong whether Chris gets a pay off, I am saying that whatever members of the public and indeed elected members of the chamber feel Chris will be remunerated inline with the terms and conditions of his contract[s].

It is common place for people in executive positions not to work their notice period and then to negotiate a severance package based on their contracts.

When a company and an individual decide that the position of a person is untenable there may be what is called a ‘Compromise Agreement’, which is normally drawn up between lawyers and often contains a ‘gagging order’ to protect both parties.

The Sentinel article and the comments posted to it may well strengthen Chris Harman’s case that his position is untenable in my opinion. Not that I disagree with the article or think that it should not have been written.

When people take their salaries from the public purse, they are to some extent accountable to every man and woman in the city. I am no lover of reading personal criticisms and in my opinion it has got personal in the case of Chris Harman, some members of the public want to hit out and to be fair maybe that’s what the extortionate salary levels attract.

I am not saying this to be controversial, far from it but I do think that this matter needs bringing to a close as soon as possible. If I were at the civic and negotiating this I would pay a reasonable sum to secure a positive outcome for both parties.

There is no advantage in keeping someone in place who doesn’t want to be there and has lost the confidence of those who are around him and indeed the public at large.

Pay out as little as we can get away with and let’s move on.