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Sir Albert seeks £50k chief of staff, but Tories say new job is a ‘vanity project’

Sir Albert seeks £50k chief of staff, but Tories say new job is a ‘vanity project’

🕔26.Aug 2014

More than 7,000 Birmingham city council jobs have disappeared in the past three years, so the creation of a new well-paid position would normally be greeted with enthusiasm.

But it seems unlikely that Labour council leader Sir Albert Bore’s decision to appoint an influential personal assistant on a salary of up to £50,000 will be greeted with universal support, even among some of his own colleagues who worry about the “aggrandisement” of the leader’s office.

Sir Albert, who has continually warned that the city’s financial crisis will force the axing of public services during 2015-16, is seeking a Chief of Staff to fulfil what is described as a “uniquely challenging role right at the centre of the city council”.

And the decision to initially advertise internally suggests that the plumb role will go to somebody who already works for the council, if a suitably qualified candidate can be found.

The successful applicant must be “dynamic, committed and innovative” and be looking “to do something completely different”, according to the job description.

There’s no mention of any requirement to be a Labour party member, but the political credentials of whoever gets the job are bound to be closely examined by opposition Tory and Lib Dem councillors.

And with a relatively modest salary range given the demands of the job, of £40,000-£50,000 according to experience, it seems likely that the post will go to a young, aspiring, political type wanting to make a mark.

Sir Albert’s move was sharply criticised by council Conservative group leader Bobby Alden, who said the decision to recruit a chief of staff when front-line jobs were disappearing was unacceptable.

Describing the new post as “Sir Albert’s vanity project”, Cllr Alden added: “We have already seen the number of policy officers increase, now the number of cabinet support officers is increasing too. For a council axing front line staff this is unacceptable and is letting the residents of Birmingham down.”

The official explanation from Labour is that the new position is part of a reshuffle that has seen Sir Albert’s long-time assistant Ceri Saunders promoted to a more senior role in the cabinet office. Ms Saunders’ former role has been extended to include staff management responsibilities, hence the need for a new title and improved salary.

The job advertisement states: “The council leader’s chief of staff is a new position providing in depth support to the leader of Europe’s largest council in a period of unprecedented change for local government.

“You will support the development and implementation of the leader’s vision, goals, priorities and responsibilities for BCC, manage the overall work and business management of the leader’s office and ensure the timely delivery of information and support services for the leader.”

Whoever gets the job will be expected to represent Sir Albert in engaging with stakeholders on city council policies and to take “routine non-executive decisions” on behalf of the leader.

Although the fixed 12-month contract will be for a 36.5 hour week, there will be a regular requirement to work in the evenings and weekends and to travel widely.

The decision to advertise for the post will trigger memories of the last person to act as chief of staff to the council leader – James North – who ran the office of Birmingham’s Tory leader Mike Whitby.

It is doubtful though that Sir Albert’s chief of staff will share North’s enthusiasm for expensive bespoke suits, colourful braces and red silk socks.

Mr North, who became one of the most influential council officers at the epicentre of the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, left to take up a senior position with the Lord Mayor of London.

Although Cllr Whitby appointed two cabinet support officers – Andrew Dunbar and Andrew Holdsworth, dubbed the Andrews Sisters by wags – the position of chief of staff was not refilled and was assumed to have disappeared in the exodus of council jobs since 2010.

The council’s core workforce has been slashed by 35 per cent in the past four years and wage costs have fallen by £26 million a year, largely as a result of unprecedented cuts in public spending imposed by Chancellor George Osborne. Almost 7,200 jobs have gone, bringing the full time equivalent workforce down to a record low of 13,000.

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