Although I was one of the three councillors who signed the Call-In of the Cabinet decision to engage consultants at an initial price of some £400,000 to come into the City Council and sort out the mal/administration.
As a Member of the Scrutiny Committee considering the call-in I was able to take a more active role than is permitted for the councillor presenting the case for the call-in.
That said, however, I singularly failed to gain the slightest insight into the thinking of the Cabinet that led them to apporove the engagement of expensive consultants without going out to tender. A Certificate of Exemption permits the “usual” tendering process to be circumvented. And for good reason according to the Chief Executive. The root and branch change required is not tinkering around the edges of myriad hierarchies but major heart surgery. “Would you consult the Yellow Pages if you wanted the best heart surgeon?” asked the Chief Executive. Well, of course not, we were told, because we would want to be sure of the very best and the best is sought by personal recommendation and personal knowledge of the person weilding the knife. So that disposed of the usual tendering process. Fine. So far so good, for the Cabinet decision.
But why the need for external consultants to tell us, basically how to best organise to deliver the best services?
Some of us can’t understand why our highly paid directors and heads of services haven’t got it sorted already; after all, when they were appointed we were assured they were the best people for the jobs with proven track records of delivering.
Our problem is that we have limited imaginations. We have failed to appreciate that in fact without the insights of jargon ladened oragnisational management speak of a Tory supporting professor our City Council can never “move forward”.
So again, so far so good for a management driven decision which still left me puzzled about the political thought processes of the Cabinet. The Cabinet member for Resources cut a lonely figure under sustained questioning about the Cabinet’s political strategy. His fellow Cabinet member for Transformation did not speak at all. She left him floundering without a paddle.
At one point it seemed that the root and branch exercise was about saving money so that it could be invested in front line services. Asked what wold happen to staff de-jobbed, well they could be re-deployed in the front line. It was as though the Cabinet member had forgotten that the whole exercise is geared towards cutting £20m or more a year from the City Council’s annual £200m budget. When probed, the response was that we didn’t know how much we had to cut until the government told us! So what on earth the Cabinet think they are dong is anyone’s guess.
The Council Leader might, if his full-time employment allows him sufficient time to devote to his Council Leader’s responsibilities, ponder a Cabinet reshuffle. Surely a quadruple party alliance of Labour, Tory, Lib Dems and City Independents is able to develop some political analysis, strategy and leadership.
Anyway, after three hours, the Labour Chair called the vote and the 3 Labour councillors supported the Cabinet decision with the one City Independent and my Unaligned self voting against. One Labour member had left early to avoid a tangle with the whip; quite astute considering the Labour chief whip was present in the form of the silent Cabinet portfolio holder.
However, it’s not only about winning or losing votes. That is a forgone conclusion given that scrutiny committee has an inbuilt majority of the quadruple coalition. It is about keeping scrutiny alive…just. With only five unaligned councillors a heavy responsibility for scrutiny rests on a handful of people.