Worries about the welfare of officers and staff at Stafford Borough Council were also raised by some members, in the wake of the departure of a number of long-serving and experienced employees during the past 12 months.
Chief executive Tim Clegg has been dividing his role between Stafford Borough Council and Cannock Chase District Council for almost a year. Stafford councillors agreed at their latest full meeting to continue the shared arrangement for the coming months, as well as exploring further opportunities for sharing other services with Cannock Chase.
Council leader Patrick Farrington said: “We have a considerable history of shared services with Cannock. One of the drivers is resilience and issues around local government finance generally.
“This report is not meant to be a decision but it is a request that the case for continuing, with detailed work to establish a business case, is considered and agreed. It’s not to say this is what we’re going to do, it’s can we investigate further? There is no firm decision at this stage.
“We maintain our sovereignty as a council – that’s an absolute must – and we retain our decision-making powers. Perhaps most importantly inclusion and involvement of our staff is key because without their acceptance, involvement and commitment it would be pretty pointless to continue and it would not be right.”
Opposition group leader Aidan Godfrey put forward an amendment calling for the borough authority to continue working with Cannock Chase to consider further shared services but end the sharing of a chief executive, meaning Tim Clegg would revert to his position at Stafford full-time.
Councillor Godfrey said: “We believe he spends a disproportionate amount of his time away from where he was employed to work.
“Stafford Borough Council at the moment is having a slight crisis in management. I don’t think there is a department or area of the council where senior management haven’t got an issue of one form or another.
“That all puts pressure on a chief executive at the best of times. When the chief executive is shared between this authority and another authority that makes the job so much harder than it need be. He’s effectively doing more hands-on management than he should be doing.
“The situation we find ourselves in with the management of Stafford Borough Council we have highlighted for many years; when posts haven’t been filled our professional colleagues have had extra work to do.
“When you get a crisis and a Covid situation then you look at ways we can manage the authority better and we haven’t got the personnel any more. We certainly need a full time chief executive to help.
“I know members opposite share our concerns on this and I ask you to think about this when you’re voting. Do you really want effectively a third of a chief executive presiding over our authority or do you want a full-time chief executive to manage this authority professionally?
“If we get our chief executive back and start to fill the positions we have vacant we will get back on course. But this council is going the wrong way about it.”
Members of the Borough Independents group also raised concerns about the impact of the current situation on staff. Councillor Brendan McKeown said the message to the outside world was that “Stafford Borough Council is a part-time council with a part-time chief executive”.
Independents group leader Councillor Rob Kenney said: “We support the idea of sharing more services with Cannock Chase District Council where it leads to improved or more efficient outcomes for our residents, but our chief executive, Mr Clegg, is not for sharing.”
However, the amendment failed to gain enough support to be carried, with 15 members voting in favour and 19 against. The original proposal went on to be approved.
Councillor Jeremy Pert said: “What I thought this paper was about was a simple choice – creating resilience within the council structure. Secondly it’s about offering career development to our great members of staff.
“You talk about a crisis in senior management but the staff have done a fantastic job over the last two years responding to the very different requirements of the Covid pandemic. To plot what was going to happen next at one stage was quite a feat in itself.
“If we carry on as we are, we stunt that career development for our staff. We also don’t future-proof the organisation as it stands.
“Anyone who reads the mood music in local authorities knows that to sit and do nothing while the tide is coming in is foolish. Or we can decide that we take the opportunity by having a business case.
“To stand back and say ‘we’re not going to do that’ is a backwards step. What message does that send to investors in Stafford or our staff or residents?”
Councillor Mark Winnington said: “Why wouldn’t we work with neighbouring authorities and let the chief executive lead from the front? It means we share our knowledge and skills.
“It’s not about do we have half a chief executive, it’s about how we take Stafford Borough forward.”