Council restructure... more power handed to leader Jeremy Birch

Hastings Borough Council leader Jeremy Birch
Hastings Borough Council leader Jeremy Birch

THE chief executive of the borough council has been axed and more power handed to leader Jeremy Birch in one of the most dramatic shake-ups ever carried out by the local authority.

The controversial move to axe Roy Mawford’s post was approved by councillors at a special cabinet meeting on Wednesday night amid scenes of anger and frustration in the chamber.

Conservative leader Matthew Lock condemned the plans as ‘incredibly weak’ and urged committee members to vote against them.

Earlier in the day the Scrutiny and Overview Committee approved the bid to make changes to the senior management structure.

Councillor Simon Corello slammed the plans as the ‘biggest threat to democracy in Hastings since the Second World War’.

But after almost two hours of debate last night the plans were approved by a margin of six Labour votes to four Conservative.

After 13 years in the job, Mr Mawford will leave the council in the new year and will not be replaced.

Instead three senior directors will be appointed in a power sharing role followed by seven heads of department cutting down from 11. The move is expected to save up to £400,000.

But it was the lack of exact cost savings and a potential ‘blurring’ of roles that angered Conservative members of the cabinet.

The plans, drawn up by Cllr Birch and his deputy, Councillor Jay Kramer, were devised to help save the authority money in the face of the Government’s tough austerity cutbacks.

But they will also give Cllr Birch the power to step in and reconcile any differences within the senior management team, an unprecedented move within the council. He will also be responsible for appraising and reviewing the targets of the directors of departments.

In the meeting, Councillor Lock criticised the plans as flawed. He said: “We’re absolutely not convinced with any of the arguments put forward. The papers are incredibly weak. With the chief executive going why is that going to make a fundamental difference. We have concerns that the plans overstep the mark especially if the directors can’t make their minds up and the leader or deputy leader can make those decisions.”

Councillor Birch, pictured above, said: “This is the best way forward for Hastings. It sends a cultural signal to our staff and I believe a collegiate team that works more closely with its staff and is more transparent will be much more effective.

“The leader of the council will have less direct power than the lead member for transport or regeneration at the county council. The changes are not only about saving money but cultural change in the organisation.

“We believe that three directors at the top will help us carry out the changes, empowering staff with more delegation, and trusting staff to get on with the job.”