County council to appoint new chief

SUFFOLK County Council, which is facing abolition under local government reorganisation, is to press ahead with recruiting a £150,000 chief executive who may only be in the job for three years.

SUFFOLK County Council, which is facing abolition under local government reorganisation, is to press ahead with recruiting a £150,000 chief executive who may only be in the job for three years.

The county has instructed one of the country's leading firms of head hunters to draw up a shortlist of candidates to be interviewed at the beginning of March.

The new chief executive will succeed Mike More, who is leaving in May to take up a similar position with Westminster City Council.

Suffolk's future is clouded in uncertainty. Last month, the Government aborted Ipswich's bid to leave county control to run its own services and has asked the Boundary Committee for England to come up with proposals for a unitary solution for council services throughout Suffolk.

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Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has indicated she wants to see a Greater Ipswich unitary authority on extended boundaries.

If that happens, the likelihood is that the rest of Suffolk will become unitary, merging the county and rural districts into one authority.

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Such a move would threaten the jobs of hundreds of council administrators and senior officers and any new chief executive for Suffolk will have no guarantee that he or she would be given the top job in any new authority.

However, the job specification drawn up by Suffolk dismisses local government reorganisation in one paragraph. "Will it happen or not? We don't know but it doesn't faze us."

Council leader Jeremy Pembroke said it was essential that Suffolk - a £1billion business with 27,000 employees - had a chief executive.

"It will be a permanent appointment. We can't worry about the future structure of local government in the county - it might not happen."

Although some councils are saving money by sharing senior staff - St Edmundsbury's chief Deborah Cadman has also been appointed acting chief at Waveney and Essex County Council's chief Joanna Killian has taken additional charge in Brentwood - Mr Pembroke said Suffolk needed a full-time permanent person at the helm.

Ipswich's Labour MP Chris Mole, who is a former county council leader, said the authority should consider whether to make the appointment permanent or to offer a fixed term contract until the council's future was resolved.

"However, it is not uncommon for chief executives to stay in the job for just three years before moving and so reorganisation may not necessarily be a bar for applicants."

Labour group leader Julian Swainson said he had "serious concerns" about proceeding.

"As we are unclear at the moment on the future of local government in Suffolk, I am worried that the uncertainty will mean the county is unable to attract candidates of the right calibre.

"Of course we need someone to steer us through reorganisation and I believe the existing higher tier officers in Suffolk all have the skills needed for one of them to be appointed acting chief executive."

Recruitment specialists Odgers Ray & Berndtson has been given the brief of finding a replacement for Mr More.

No salary has been publicly quoted, but one expert believes it will not be less than £150,000.

He said: "There is a relatively small pool of candidates who would be suitable to take charge of the county council. Given the uncertainty over the authority's future, the job may attract someone recently retired who has bags of experience but is not looking for a career move."

Closing date for applications is January 25 with final interviews taking place on March 5 and 6.

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