Council leader denies plan to axe chief executive will make him mayor ‘via back door’

Jeremy Birch
Jeremy Birch

COUNCIL leader Jeremy Birch has been slammed for his management shake-up plan which axes the chief executive and appears to give him more power.

Under the proposal, jointly written with deputy council leader Jay Kramer and published this week, the senior management team at Hastings Borough Council (HBC) will be cut from 15 officers to 10 with a team of three directors taking over the chief executive role.

Cllr Birch says the job losses are necessary to deal with the reductions in Government funding, but critics say the move gives him added influence.

If directors fail to agree on an issue the leader would have the final say, according to the plan.

Hastings MP Amber Rudd described this as ‘a very worrying and unwelcome development’.

“This represents him taking on much more of an executive role,” she said.

“If Jeremy wants to be an elected mayor he needs to put this to the people of Hastings, and in the past this idea of an elected mayor has been rejected. He cannot take on this role via the back door.

“I would strongly oppose this proposal and urge councillors to think very carefully about governance issues of the council when they vote on this.”

She suggested sharing the chief executive role across Hastings and a nearby council instead of getting rid of it entirely at HBC.

Nick Perry, Lib Dem candidate for Hastings said it was important the three directors would not become ‘yes men’ and added: “That said, we need to allow our officers to be trusted to do their jobs and politicians to do theirs.”

However, Cllr Birch rejected his comment, saying: “I have confidence that we have three high-quality chief officers who work very well under different political leaderships of the council, and will continue to do so.

“The idea that any of them would be a yes man is insulting to them as they are very experienced.”

He said critics had taken on an ‘exaggerated view’ of the leader’s extra responsibility under the plans and that he was not seeking any further powers.

There would be little change from current practices, he said.

“If there was substantial disagreement now between officers then members’ advice would be sought,” he added. “Officers do not work in a vacuum.”

Cllr Birch said the proposal to shed the chief executive role – which pays just over £132,000 a year – plus four other senior officers is the result of a management restructuring review that was agreed at budget setting time for this financial year..

He added: “Everybody has their own view on how best we could save money but the fact is HBC is having to grapple with 50 per cent less Government money and we have to make significant changes.”

Councillors are due to vote on the proposal at a special cabinet meeting on Wednesday.