Update Friday afternoon: Andrea Hill to remain on leave until at least June while further investigations are carried out. Statement said that some matters had been resolved but others further inquiries. Following an FoI request the committee has also asked the investigation to look at some of Ms Hill’s expenses claims (BBC).
A statement about the future of Andrea Hill is expected later today after a meeting of the county council’s Dismissals Appeals Committee. Ms Hill, the council chief executive, has been on extended leave for a month while and inquiry into allegations about staff relations in the legal department.
A preliminary report from solicitors Wragge and Co who have been conducting an external investigation will be presented to the committee and council leader Mark Bee, who was chosen after the resignation of Jeremy Pembroke.
The subject of the inquiry has been a whistleblowing allegation made after two senior executives resigned and the death by suspected suicide of David White. Mr White had been given additional responsibility as interim monitoring officer (one of the key local government posts) after the sudden resignation of Eric Whitfield, the monitoring officer, and another official, Graham Dixon, the director of resource management at the end of March.
Police have been investigating Mr White’s death before the resumption of an inquest into his death.
According to the county council website the Dismissals Appeals Committee “meets as required to deal with appeals by Council employees under the Council’s disciplinary and grievance procedures”. The press and public will be excluded from today’s meeting as is normal when discussing such matters. However, there has been no suggestion that the meeting will involve an appeal: BBC Radio Suffolk is reporting that a report from the meeting will go to Mark Bee who has announced the end of the New Strategic Direction policy of which Ms Hill was the architect.
The committee has five members, four Conservative and one Liberal Democrat.
The relvant agenda item for the meeting is:
To Consider a Report by the Strategic HR Manager (Reward and Performance)
(The report relating to this Agenda item has been withheld from public circulation and deposit pursuant to Section 100(A) of the Local Government Act 1972 on the grounds that the meeting is likely not to be open to the public when this item is considered).
Suffolk now has the New Pragmatic Direction to replace the New Strategic Direction. Mark Bee the new leader of the county council signalled the change of direction yesterday after being confirmed in his role.
His rhetoric laden speech was understandably short on detail about what his approach will mean. He made it very clear that the need for big financial cuts has not gone away. It will be a tough job to turn policy around in the middle of a financial year.
He told the council:
The NSD has come to be seen as a one size fits all philosophy that must be applied across Suffolk, regardless of the views of local communities.
This has resulted in much of the good work being ignored. With the debate focused around the concept and three or four highly contentious issues.
I believe that has been to the detriment of Suffolk County Council.
I am clear that my Leadership will not be about a ‘philosophy’. It will be about three core principles: Listening to the people of Suffolk, openness and transparency, and above all: Practical, common sense solutions to problems based on the needs of a specific area developed with communities and partners.
The full text of his speech is on the East Anglian Daily Times website.
One of his first tasks will be turning around the administrative structure which under the former leader, Jeremy Pembroke, and Chief Executive, Andrea Hill, has been geared to delivering the NSD. Ms Hill had firmly nailed her colours to this mast and her future remains uncertain as her extended leave continues while an investigation into matters in the legal department is carried out.
There are hopeful signs that the Maoist tendency of the former administration has not succeeded in completing its cultural revolution in Endeavour House. Cllr Bee is going to need the wholehearted and constructive support from the county’s officials.
But we should not imagine that things are going to simply return to the way they were. His speech signalled a continuation of localisation, with community involvement in school crossing patrols, libraries, recycling centres and much more.
James Hargrave, the Stradbroke blogger, who was at yesterday’s meeting (I missed it having just returned from Wales) has interesting views on the change of direction. He is not convinced that the “current leadership realise quite how dysfunctional the County Council has become”.
Public Libraries News has a series of links today about the decision of Suffolk County Council not to go ahead with the divestment of libraries to individual community groups under the heading: Suffolk — campaigning works OR too good to be true
As the announcement, of a plan for a community interest company to run libraries, continues to be absorbed and debated, traffic on the internet is very firmly agreed that the library staff are hugely important to a successful future and that they need to be consulted and involved in the next stage.
Mark Bee, the council’s leader-elect has said that one of his tasks is to improve morale of council staff. I trust he is working on this in the library service where a lot of staff are dispirited at present.
Every library user can also help by letting the staff how much they are valued. Give them a metaphoric hug if you don’t think the real thing would be appropriate in a library!
The announcement that Suffolk libraries have been “saved”, rushed out over a bank holiday weekend, stinks of political expediency.
It comes just four days before the borough and and district elections which are widely expected to see Labour win control of Ipswich as Conservatives suffer there and in the districts.
While the abandonment of the plan by Conservative dominated Suffolk County Council to divest all libraries is welcome, it is far from clear how libraries would operate under the newly proposed community interest company.
It was a political announcement apparently agreed by some sort of sofa cabinet consisting Mark Bee, the leader elect, Jane Storey, the interim leader and Judy Terry, the cabinet member responsible for libraries.
It comes before they have even had time to read all the submissions to the ill-fated libraries consultation which only ended on Saturday.
On BBC Radio Suffolk this morning Cllr Terry said they hoped to save all the libraries and denied that the announcement was a political stunt.
Just five days ago, on Wednesday, April 27, there was no hint of this change of heart. Cllr Terry told people handing in save our libraries petitions: “We are looking at all options ay the moment…. The consultation does ot end until the end of the month and then we have to analyse all the results.”
So what happened in the following three days? We simply don’t know, but rumours started to circulate on social media yesterday and during the afternoon a story appeared on the website of the Ipswich Evening Star by local government correspondent Paul Geater.
Today Geater has a fuller story in the East Anglain Daily Time (which shares staff with the Evening Star) today which says:
The libraries are set to be run by a community interest company which will be fully owned by the county council – but will include representatives of communities across Suffolk as well as councillors and officials.
Mrs Terry said this would ensure that the county retained responsibility for providing the library service – but it would enable individual communities to decide what was on offer.
She said: “The review of library services has shown how much they are valued by their communities, but it has also shown that different communities want different things from their libraries and this should allow them to develop in different ways.”
She said that involving communities in the running of the libraries would lead to a reduction in the amount of bureaucracy and should help to make savings needed by the county.
On Radio Suffolk she said that the Community Interest Company would make savings of at least 30% but they hoped the savings could be greater. Cllr Terry did say there would be a further consultation before a report to the council’s Cabinet.
A lot of questions remain to be answered. Not least, why was the decision leaked on the Sunday of a bank holiday weekend at the start of a week in which local government elections (not including the County Council itself) take place?
There is the question of why a community interest company with “community representatives” on its board will be more democratic than the council running the libraries. How will these representatives by chosen and how will that be more democratic than elected councillors running the service?
How will a community interest company be able to make greater savings than would be possible if the county continued to run libraries directly?
After Cllr Bee was chosen by the Conservative group as leader-elect two weeks ago folwoing the resignation of Jeremy Pembroke, he told the EADT:
If we are going to properly engage with the people of Suffolk we are going to have find out what they want in such a way that there is a meaningful way that these things can be run and not just a theory and a hope that people will take them on.
If the Big Society is about anything it is about working with communities and I want us as a council to actively do that rather than just hope and anticipate that people will take these things on.
One of the principle objections to the just-finished consultation was that it appeared not to have been thought through before being launched on the public with apparently one option for many of the libraries: form a community group to take it over or lose it.
Now another single idea is being presented to the people. And it appears to have been cobbled together in three days.
Predicting what will happen at Suffolk County Council with Mark Bee as leader is really a guessing came. The information is sparse beyond what he said in an article in the Evening Star yesterday.
It has the heading Mark Bee’s vision for the county, and contains welcome promises to listen to the people and to provide more time for a dialogue over the more contentious issues. We know he does not use the words “New Strategic Direction” but that a policy of community divestment will continue.
He is probably wise not to say anything too specific at the moment. He has more than a month of thinking time before he actually takes on the role of council leader.
Instead of risking making predictions, here are links to what other Suffolk blogs have to say.
Mark Valladares (Lib Dem) writes an open letter to Bee which includes the suggestion of cabinet changes to ensure he has a cabinet which “responds to your leadership”.
Kevan Lim (Lab) echoes this concern saying: “The problem for Mark is that he will now have on the backbenches his former Leader, Jeremy Pembroke who will be a brooding presence as Mark attempts to review the direction of the Council.”
Tendancecoatesy (very left) welcomes the reprieve for lollypop people and the promise to reconsider other policies but questions whether it is “really a fundamental change”.
The right voice of Ipswich Spy (what has happened to the left voice?) has some apparent inside information on the leadership election and feels the Conservatives made a mistake in not choosing Colin Noble. The Spy says Noble told the private hustings of his views on Andrea Hill as chief executive, “whose days would have been numbered under his leadership”.
A Riverside View (Con) believes the county council Conservatives made the right choice ins Bee, a man who went into politics for the right reason — to make a difference and leave things in a better shape.
Craig Dearden-Phillips (Lib Dem) welcomes Bee’s election but is worried that “moves to shift services into social enterprises and charities will stall”.
James Hargrave (Lib Dem) hopes Bee “will lead Suffolk County Council to something we can all be proud of whatever our politics”.
The 6th pip (Lab) finds it “slightly perverse to express too serious an interest in the internal machinations of a political faction with which I am in no way aligned”, but like Wordblog has taken a look at other blogs.
I do hope Mark Bee finds time to trawl through Suffolk political blogs sometimes. He may find some of the views exasperating, but it is lively scene which will give him another slant on the mood of the county.
Later: Caroline Page (Lib Dem) says Bee has “shown every sign of being Suffolk County Tories’ quiet voice of reason”. She hopes his few weeks of reflection will result in a “Damascene conversion”.
Only Conservative County Councillors will be able to vote for their new leader to replace Jeremy Pembroke who resigned last week, but it is an election of great importance to everyone in Suffolk.
So I hope the candidates will make clear and public statements about their approach to the job, rather than speak in code understandable only to insiders.
We are told by the East Anglian Daily Times that Guy McGregor is seen as the “third candidate” who could be the compromise choice. It seems that Colin Noble is the carry on as we have been doing candidate, while Mark Bee represents something else and has been said to be the “outsider” who would bring change in the way the Conservative administration works.
Mr Noble, according to the EADT believes there is no problem with the New Strategic Direction, but it has not been explained well.
I will happily carry statements of 250 words from any, or preferably all, the candidates. Please use the contact page to let me know.