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Interim CEO contract extended as more emails emerge

Interim CEO contract extended as more emails emerge

🕔07.Sep 2017

As the crisis as the Council House continues, Chamberlain Files has seen further exchanges between the leader and Interim Chief Executive revealing the extent of their disagreement and understands that talks with the unions are still days away.

Meanwhile, Council House sources have indicated to the Chamberlain Files that Stella Manzie, the Interim CEO, has been asked and agreed to stay until Christmas, or when a new Chief Executive arrives.

Whatever the state of her relationship with Cllr Clancy, Ms Manzie leaving or a decision not to accept an extension would almost certainly have lead to the Communities Secretary telling the Improvement Panel to continue its work, rather than allow suspension.

In our story on Saturday, we highlighted the Improvement Panel had not received a response to its 4th August letter to Sajid Javid and that the Panel was believed to be following events closely.

Meanwhile, the process of appointing a permanent Chief Executive is under way with a recruitment advertisement imminent.

The waste management dispute is complicated and bound up in a history which makes reform very challenging. But, the current political crisis – and John Clancy’s future – boils down to three relatively simple and related questions, writes Kevin Johnson:

  • Did John Clancy operate beyond his formal powers and cabinet decision making?
  • Did he reach an “agreement in principle” in good faith and in line with formal advice available at the time, or did he knowingly endorse a joint statement with the unions which he knew was not deliverable in an effort to halt industrial action and start constructive negotiations?
  • Was the leader of the council only provided with the relevant legal advice and financial information that would make the “agreement in principle” impossible in respect of maintaining and developing Grade 3 Leading Hand roles after 15 August – and if so, why did he not make any public comments until 1 September?

On the first question, the balance of evidence seems to be against Cllr Clancy so far.

Chamberlain Files has seen a second email exchange between the leader and Interim Chief Executive Stella Manzie.

It took place the day after the exchange we revealed earlier this week. Following a phone conversation, Ms Manzie repeated her refusal to instruct Jacqui Kennedy, Corporate Director – Place, to lift the suspension of a member of waste management staff who was also a Unite representative.

As we know, Cllr Clancy issued the instruction himself to the acting depot manager two days later. (18 August). In that email, he said:

…Birmingham City Council cabinet took the decision last night to support the compromise which has been negotiated through ACAS….

ALL of the terms of the compromise will be implemented…. (Our emphasis)

The leader said in his email to the acting depot manager that it was a “key decision” under the Council’s constitution and “thus falls to be made by Cabinet.” He explained:

These decisions would normally be communicated to you by officers but due to the relatively unusual circumstances in this case, I am writing to you directly….

“Unusual” as in his officers would not follow his instructions.

There are very few people in the Council House who seek to defend the leader’s actions in this regard, other than to explain it was a Unite red line through which the leader had to cut through in order to make any progress.

Some Cabinet members are understood to be aggrieved by the leader’s actions on this matter in particular and some have told the Chamberlain Files that the Cabinet did not approve a “key decision” or the leader directly issuing the instruction on the employee’s return to work.

In her email to the leader on the afternoon of 16th August, Stella Manzie wrote:

[name] was suspended for alleged intimidation of more than one person.

Chamberlain Files understands that one of the staff who brought the complaint against the Unite representative is a black woman, making some in the Labour Party uncomfortable at the possibility of racial and gender undertones to the complaint.

Chamberlain Files understands that the issue of Cllr Clancy’s conduct and the allegation of acting outside his powers and accountability to cabinet, in particular, has been referred to Labour Party HQ as a result of our story on Tuesday.

We also understand that some Cabinet members have sought advice from the Local Government Association (LGA). However, we are not aware that Labour or the LGA have launched official investigations.

Meanwhile, Chamberlain Files understands that the council has not offered to meet unions at Acas until next Tuesday, 11th September. It has still not shared relevant legal opinion which forms the basis of possible equal pay claims, the issue at the heart of retaining Grade 3 Leading Hands roles.

We will return to this – and our second and third key questions – later on the Chamberlain Files.

It would seem most observers are prepared to believe the intentions of the leader in intervening in the dispute were good, but many think what followed went badly wrong.

Whilst supporters of Cllr Clancy suggest that nothing has changed – waste management reform is progressing with “beefed up” contingency plans, talks continue and redundancy notices have been issued – many believe the council has been damaged by the affair and that the leader has lost at least a degree of confidence.

For some supporters of John Clancy, media and political obsession with the process misses what the people of Birmingham are most concerned about.

But, trust is now a fundamental issue in this crisis, notwithstanding how irritating, dirty and embarrassing bin bags are on the streets of Birmingham.

Does the Labour group, the Cabinet, Council and wider stakeholders – including unions, business community and citizens – trust and respect the leader of the city council? Has the council significantly improved the poor governance laid bare in Lord Kerskale’s withering report?

The Conservative group has tabled a motion for next Tuesday’s full council meeting which states:

The Council believes that the Leader’s handling of the industrial dispute with Unite over waste collections has badly let down staff, senior officers, fellow Cabinet Members, non-executive Councillors and most importantly the residents of Birmingham.

It stops short of asking for a vote of no confidence or the leader’s resignation, but that could change. Nearly 100 questions have also been submitted on the issue.

Whilst Labour insiders claim the Cabinet and Labour group agreed unity is required at their meeting earlier this week, it is a stretch to claim the cabinet is not split.

Like all leaders, Cllr Clancy does not have overwhelming support across his group. Such is politics, not least Birmingham Labour party politics. But he has to command the confidence of the majority and the respect of most.

What focuses the mind of many councillors right now is their selection to stand at the all-out council election next May – and then election to one of the new 101 seats. Would their leader falling now – and the role they play in that – improve or deplete their chances?

There is an ongoing battle about whether a vote of no confidence in the Labour group leader will be allowed to make it onto the agenda next Monday evening. Labour insiders say not, but the irony of Sir Albert Bore’s persistent challenger relying on the rulebook to deny a formal motion is not lost on some councillors. There is talk of some losing the party whip and leadership challengers being readied.

To resolve this leadership crisis, Cllr Clancy and all with an interest in the city – not least the residents of Birmingham – might be best served by him warmly welcoming such a debate and vote next week.

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