I have watched with interest the recent convolutions of the Co-operative Bank. There are some lessons for us all here, although possibly more for the private sector than for local government.
We first had the resignation, some might say disgrace, of the former Chairman, Paul Flowers, in June 2013. Ignoring the more salacious aspects of the story, I was interested in the suggestion that he did not understand the business that he was the chairman of, even that he was incompetent in the role.
Well, we have to ask how different that is in local government? – many leaders do not have any professional background in leading organisations the size and complexity of local authorities.
But as a sector we manage this well: firstly, it is rarely the case that someone becomes leader without having undergone an apprenticeship – on the back benches, on scrutiny or various committees, as a deputy and then full Cabinet member, and maybe even as deputy leader.
Secondly, we are pretty good at training our politicians in the technical aspects of the work – although I well recall one member at a previous authority refusing all training on the basis that he was only there to represent his constituents!
And thirdly, we have excellent governance mechanisms, including external regulatory systems, which largely protect the organisation and the public purse from incompetence. Maybe these approaches were not in place at the Co-operative Bank, at least as far as Mr Flowers’ role was concerned.
Then in March of this year we had the resignation of Mr Sutherland, the chief executive of the bank. Seemingly he chose to resign because he could not manage the many political factions that made up the bank’s governance, and specifically that some board members leaked his not inconsiderable salary of £3.6m a year.
Well, welcome to our world Mr Sutherland. We eat, sleep and breathe political factions, not only within but across multiple political parties.
And our salaries, not to say expenses, pensions, even diaries, are subject to the closest of scrutiny on a daily basis.
Perhaps Mr Sutherland needs to spend some time working in our sector in order to develop the skills, knowledge and expertise to be able to handle such situations.
Or perhaps this provides some insight into why so few people brought up in the philosophies and secrecies of the private sector have been able to be truly successful in the transparent glare of the public sector.
Abdool Kara is chief executive of Swale BC