I was astounded and appalled by Monday’s announcement from the Conservatives that they planned to merge council chief executives with directly elected Mayors.
Twelve cities across the country would hold referendums to get rid of their council chief executives and hand over the powers to an “executive mayor”, who would take over the role of hiring and firing staff, determining council operations, and directing spending, as well as offering political leadership.
Conflating the two posts would help address public concern about the pay of local authority bosses, said Caroline Spelman, the shadow communities secretary.
Firstly, I agree that many chief executives (in local authorities and private companies) are vastly overpaid compared to their hard working staff. But cutting up to 12 CEO salaries and replacing them with new elections for mayors is hardly going to be saving money. It’s a populist measure because most people won’t think of the cost of the elections when hearing the proposal — they’ll just keep in mind losing another expensive bureaucrat.
But what worries much more is that this announcement shows that the Conservatives are ready to abuse the position of the civil service as much as Labour have. Peter Oborne and others have been scathing of how a trend to politicise and misuse the civil service in the political trenches has gone from occasional in the Thatcher years to out of control in the Blair years.
No matter who is in charge politically, a paid head of the civil service is needed to manage the permanent staff of government who remain whatever changes elections bring. YES local government desperately needs serious reform… but going back on hundreds of years of political evolution by merging officer and politician is wrong-headed, fixes nothing and is just cheap populism.
This is a bad policy and I’m disappointed that a major political party could actually announce something so wrongheaded. It doesn’t bode well for the level of political debate ahead…