Departure of senior executive at City Hall causes further unease
Janet Worth? Damian Hockney believes that the departure last night of the City Hall Director of Corporate Services is worth the media exclamation mark even if it does not get one…he thinks it will have more of an impact on how the Mayor delivers than the recent sausage machine of high profile advisers like Ray Lewis and Tim Parker entering and leaving the building.
He says that ‘small government’ must mean efficient government – and that the Mayor needs to get a grip on the running of City Hall, and not leave it to unelected senior advisers. And to remember that ‘savings’ in one area often mean more spending in others…
The media has been full of departing mayoral advisers at City Hall, with tv interviews often staged in front of the apt and fast-moving revolving doors of the Glass Egg…but a more worrying trend has emerged with the relatively unheralded departure of two executive directors at City Hall – David Lunts and Janet Worth. These directors are full time employed non-political staff who keep the wheels of City Hall turning. Anyone who has worked there knows their value – even hard bitten ‘small government’ anoraks like myself.
The talented City Hall Director of Corporate Services Janet Worth has been made redundant, and the change will have a major impact on how City Hall operates. There is no doubt that right across the board, in all parties and among all decision makers, the move has been opposed as retrograde and damaging to sound administration. It is indeed the first time in my experience of either being at City Hall or commenting that a departure has caused such an intake of breath. During the floods at City Hall, which almost derailed the May 1st elections, it was the quick thinking and inspirational approach of Janet Worth which got her people working flat out, in their own time, to make sure the democratic process took place at all. And the propaganda about her taking early retirement rings hollow throughout the building.
LEAN MEAN MACHINE
I’m a supporter of slimmed down government, a fan of the Taxpayers Alliance campaigns and no devotee of the idea of ever increased powers and money and staff for any area of government. And a remark the new Mayor made about wanting a lean mean machine to run London should receive the support of all. But squeezing local government of good people and treating those who remain like a second class state in the name of savings is false economy and is the type of thing that brings the concept of value for money into disrepute.
This is a double shame because the new team on the Mayor’s 8th floor at City Hall has a reputation for politeness, consideration and respect for staff at every level which has pleased and surprised all in the building. But the agenda of any genuine ‘small government’ person must be to make change as efficiently and painlessly as possible, or political support fades before you have begun. And also against a background of understanding the structures. The departure of Janet Worth is symbolic of what happens when a high profile commitment to “cutting millions off the City Hall budget” leads to decisions which slice into the essence of what has to be achieved and administered, while ignoring much bigger issues (and the actual waste which needs to be dealt with). It’s as if it is too much to actually focus on real waste, so let’s take the easy option.
In fact, the whole recent City Hall budget issue is a diversion – the media headlines of the Mayor ‘cutting the budget by 15%’ are misleading. This often quoted City Hall budget figure of considerably less than £100 million is the GLA budget at City Hall, a tiny percentage of the whole spending, which itself is well over £10 billion. Much less than 1%. The real ‘City Hall budget’ is indeed the Budget for this much bigger sum that the Mayor presents every year. And he has revealed no plans whatever to cut that. Let alone by £1.5 billion+…which would be 15% of the real ‘City Hall’ budget. This means potentially that to make a few high profile ‘savings’ more costs will be loaded onto other parts of the GLA group like the police authority (MPA) or Transport for London (TfL). Possibly in a way which contravenes their statutory requirements.
So what we have is a sacrifice of a few key people and a kind of token attack on those who work at City Hall to prove a point for public consumption while ignoring the really big issues where waste might easily be identified, then debated and then acted upon. Hopefully to cheers from all involved including staff. The Wheatcroft Panel was a wasted opportunity to take the concept of the need to use resources of government properly and dispassionately and apply it without recourse to the emotive issues of politics and personalities – “Lee Jasper…blah blah…too many bureaucrats…blah blah…”. Such a concept could still be made to work.
The current situation however is similar to the Parkinson’s Law of Triviality…with disproportionate weight given to relatively trivial issues being a direct result of lack of understanding of the larger ones. Of course the role of senior staff and their hiring and firing are not trivial but focusing upon individuals is.
Why is it important that a good person is being turned out? Why is it worth a comment like this? Because as a leader, you do not get the good government we all cry out for if you (or your people) make high profile wrong decisions internally. And this is a wrong decision which has caused reverberations through City Hall. One very senior official told me this morning: “Staff and elected members are shocked at Janet’s early retirement and many are concerned that she will not be there to work with them through a time of change and uncertainty for hundreds of staff who have always turned to her as the steady, calm leader. What does it say to other female managers – if someone as outstanding as Janet is forced to leave why would they want to stay.” If you demoralise the staff, then even those on your own side will be nervous.
Does the Mayor know about what is happening here? Is the Mayor party properly to the decisions being taken. The belief at City Hall generally appears to be that he is not. After election fever has died down it quickly becomes apparent that the Mayor’s role is a technocratic one, and the involvement in senior management decisions has to be a priority. The alternative is a situation where powerful ‘barons’ make decisions against a gothic or Gormenghast-style background – he who should be in charge is in name alone and the agendas of powerful groups take control.
It begs the question as to why a major restructuring is also taking place before a new Chief Exec is appointed. Or have the decisions on this already been taken?
SAFE PAIR OF HANDS
Either the Mayor is party to how City Hall operates or he is not. If the decisions about senior staff are taken without him, then his own ability to deliver will be lessened. It may be lack of confidence, but the ‘safest pair of hands’ in this situation, Mayor, is (believe it or not) you yourself. And although I’m an an ardent opponent of kowtowing to PC targets, does it not make you, as a basically decent man, feel uneasy that this will mean no women in the senior posts at City Hall? And the one you have is paid much less than the others? Is this because she is is part time?
Any supporter of smaller government who is serious in their belief, knows that you have a duty to carry people with you and to identify how the process can be done in a way that improves internal structures and which inspires. It is an art and it is not butchery. You cannot simply fire ‘one in eight’ at random or just not fill all current vacancies. Some vacancies are more equal than others. Similarly, and really important, you cannot imagine that all these statutory bodies are somehow part of one pot and that the functions can just move between them.
The MPA and TfL cannot ‘take up the slack’ if you sack a few high profile staff at the GLA who deal with transport or policing issues. Their functions are fixed by statute, so to simply say that City Hall will not do something because the MPA or TfL does things in that area is a non-starter. And this is where you need to brief your high profile advisers on what is the art of the possible. There are huge savings to be made without really rattling the cage, but you need a plan, not a political campaign.
Those who do not understand this simply damage the concept and demoralise rather than inspire – this recent departure acts to ‘decourager les autres’ rather than ‘encourager’. The public is finally grasping that throwing cash at things will not guarantee results…that has been a major step forward for the efficient use of public money and a brake on those who would tax and spend. But any major elected official who drops the ball and messes this up for campaigners like myself will earn as much enmity and anger as those who have wasted the billions over the years.
For supporters of good lean mean government, the departure of this one official is a much worse omen than the departure of the ‘here today gone tomorrow’ political advisers through the revolving doors of City Hall.