Steadying the ship: Full steam ahead

Charlie Parker
CHIEF EXECUTIVE: Charlie Parker will leave “big shoes to fill” when he leaves Oldham for Westminster City Council early in 2014

FOLLOWING the news that Charlie Parker is to become the new Chief Executive at Westminster Council there has inevitably been speculation about who might come in to fill those big shoes.

We are currently in both uncertain and exciting times in Oldham.

Right now we’re on the verge of delivering successful regeneration that will lay the foundations for our recovery and prosperity for the next generation.

That might feel like an overstatement but I believe it – not least of all because not achieving it would be a failure too far.

But that ambition for the future is also being delivered in the context of unprecedented budget cuts to Oldham Council.

After the £150m we’ve already taken out we are now tasked with finding a further £60m in savings by the end of the financial year 2016/17.

To put that into perspective our total staffing budget is £96m with health and adult social care contracts following behind.

That means our room for manoeuvre is limited at a time when most members of the public don’t see or recognise the full range of services (more than 700) which local councils are delivering.

In fact, the services which people closely relate us to – such as waste collection, street cleaning and libraries – amount to a very small part of our budget. The vast majority is spent looking after people at risk of harm and abuse or those vulnerable people not able to fully take care of themselves.

At this time of enormous change here we needed to steady ‘the good ship Oldham’ and ensure that our 3,000 members of staff are supported through this period.

It’s worth remembering, after all, that more than 70 per cent of our workforce lives in Oldham – so they are also your friends and neighbours.

Our guiding principle in reacting to Charlie Parker’s departure – likely to be in or around mid-January – was to provide stability rather than rush into a lengthy and distracting recruitment process.

We have a great senior management team here who will continue to deliver for people in Oldham and, although Charlie is a big personality and a great public servant, the council isn’t just about one person at the top: it works because of everyone doing their bit.

The timetable that has been recommended to members will see a permanent appointment confirmed (subject to finding the right candidate) in Summer 2014.

CarolynWilkinsDuring the interim period Carolyn Wilkins, Deputy Chief Executive (pictured, right), will be stepping up as Interim Chief Executive and provide the management leadership for the council.

Clearly that sorts our internal business out, but we have also set out on an exciting journey to regenerate our town and we must not lose momentum.

That’s why I’m delighted that Sir Howard Bernstein has agreed to work alongside our Development Team to support our on-going commercial negotiations and give ongoing strategic guidance to those plans.

Sir Howard is a major player in regeneration and together with Sir Richard Leese is widely credited for rebuilding Manchester city centre following the IRA bombing.

This arrangement will be with Manchester City Council (MCC), not Sir Howard personally. We have agreed to pay MCC for his services in supporting our plans and are currently working through the detail of this.

The public will rightly want to know the cost and salary details for these arrangements and, although we’re still in discussions with MCC, I am in a position to confirm the other details around this interim period.

The salary for the Interim Chief Executive will be £154,143. This compares to the current Chief Executive’s salary of £177,364 which means a pro-rata saving of £23,221 on the post.

In addition the Deputy Chief Executive’s salary of £130,000 will be available during the interim period to provide additional support inside or outside the council or as a cash saving. We’re currently reviewing any knock on changes which may be required when Carolyn Wilkins ‘steps up’ and those will be confirmed at December’s Full Council when members will vote on the package.

During our discussions about senior officer salary levels we are always keen to ensure that the right balance is struck between paying the ‘market rate’ and also recognising that whatever is agreed meets public expectations.

On that basis it’s worth noting that the ratio of the highest to the lowest paid staff  applied here was within a range of 10:1 and 14:1: both are well under the Hutton Review recommendation of a 20:1 limit.

The salary for the Interim Chief Executive is therefore around 11:1 on that ratio. It sounds technical and I know it is still a big salary to all Oldhamers, so we neither expect nor seek praise for it.

This whole process did make me think back to a few years ago when the current Chief Executive’s salary was the topic of much debate.

I was door-knocking during an election and a voter began to challenge my allowance and expenses.

He believed that as Council Leader I was being paid circa £200,000 a year and raking in expenses – and I suspect he isn’t alone in that misunderstanding.

To put the record straight, the total allowance for the leader in Oldham is £41,170 and I also don’t claim expenses but instead ‘live within my means’.

Again that is not stated to seek either comment or praise because £41,170 is well paid. It is, however, way off that £200,000 mark that is often quoted back to me on the doorsteps.

On a final point there is still much important work for Charlie Parker to finalise before his departure from here.

In a future blog I will be reflecting in more depth on his five-year tenure here at Oldham Council.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

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