A new beginning

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Ian Sumnall, chief executive of Arun District Council, retires in the autumn, having served the district well for 25 years, and I wish him good health and happiness for the future.

What I find alarming is the announcement that councillors appear to be unable to deal with his replacement without calling in a local government consultant – undoubtedly at massive cost – to advise them.

These are the same councillors who make major decisions, involving multiple millions of pounds of our money and affecting the lives of us all and yet, do not, within their ranks, have former senior company directors and managers capable to handling the situation themselves. I am shocked that this should be the situation.

By coincidence, and in stark contrast, the highest-ranking strategic director, dealing with, inter alia, all financial affairs of Portsmouth City Council (on a salary of around £105,000) retires on August 31 and is not being replaced. All his duties and responsibilities are being distributed between the remaining directors.

Perhaps Arun should think again?

And at the same time it could just be that Arun, if it really does lack that business management content within its councillors, could do worse than to consult with major business enterprises, for the structure of local government is so stale and typecast that it is monotonous and grossly unimaginative and out of date.

It certainly could never make a profit, for none of the leaders has ever had to do so.

If that is true, also, of the councillors, then we have the blind leading the blind – and that is not just sad and desperate, but very expensive and needs to be put right.

What is needed is a dynamic, forceful and experienced ‘captain’ of industry who has lived a life knowing he runs his organisation successfully and profitably or the company fails and he and his employees are out of a job.

With such an inspirational and enthusiastic leader, the face of local government would rapidly change from within.

The jobs-for-life syndrome and the inevitable lack of drive in individuals (which must occur somewhere in local government or we would not be in the dire situation we find ourselves right now) would be discouraged and eliminated and a vibrant and fresh, revitalised Arun District Council would emerge.

Having headed companies as chairman and managing director for over three decades – and through two depressions – I speak with more than a casual amount of knowledge of company management and successful and profitable leadership.

Had I failed, my company would have collapsed and me with it.

My family money financed that company and that is a pretty powerful incentive to succeed.

In public companies, directors need to succeed to satisfy their investors with profits and dividends.

In local government, employees, from the chief executive downwards, carry no personal risk or liability and can drift along for ever, borrowing millions and millions of pounds without any query from anyone.

It is time for change in management structure and attitudes in local government and the time for Arun to start is right now.

Do not replace Ian Sumnall but follow Portsmouth’s example – then set about getting leadership which is fundamentally profit-orientated and clear out the dead wood.

The present council could do worse than to make this its goal with its four-year term.

Richard D Ostler,

The Drive,

Aldwick