Councillors have debated the best way to recruit the council’s new Chief Executive Officer after Dr Helen Paterson revealed she was off to run Walsall.
The report presented to the Full Council outlined the nitty gritty of how a new Chief Executive is found, including the formation of a politically balanced Appointments Committee, plus of course the creation and publication of a job advert.
Addressing the chamber on Wednesday, Council Leader Mark Pritchard explained the report sought approval to recruit to the role of Chief Executive – incorporating the roles of head of paid services, returning officer and electoral registration officer.
The position is due to become vacant on November 13th 2017, when current Chief Executive Dr Helen Paterson, steps down from her role.
Kicking off the debate, leader of the Labour group Cllr Dana Davies asked for reassurance from the council leader that at the “earliest opportunity” if a debate or an all member workshop to discuss the senior organisational structure within the council, could take place.
Cllr Davies added: “I think it needs to be reviewed on a regular basis and it was June 2015 when we agreed the current structure.
“Going forward I think council’s across the board have to be more innovative and creative in how they deliver services. The squeeze on local authorities, we can’t see an end to it.
“I’m asking this as a point of view of the new Chief Executive we appoint. It will also then give them the opportunity to feed into that debate. We have to recognise they are going to have their vision for taking the authority forward.”
Cllr Pritchard agreed that the new Chief Executive would want to make their own decision with the senior structure and that it would be wise to “wait until the recruitment exercise process is over and the new Chief Executive is in post”.
Calls were also made from the Plaid Cymru group for two amendments to be made to the job description – the first being that the person appointed to the role should live within the county borough and that they should show a commitment to learn Welsh, if they aren’t already a Welsh speaker.
Questions were also asked on the amount of money proposed to fill the role of Chief Executive.
In the report there is a breakdown of costings and details of a media campaign and possible external head hunter which would be run as part of the recruitment process of the new Chief Executive.
The report states: “It is recommended that the Chief Executive permanent recruitment campaign is managed internally by the HR & OD Manager with an external specialist used to support the shortlisting, assessment and appointment process.
“This will give the Council access to contact sources and assessment processes from specialists in this type of recruitment. The anticipated costs for this will be in the region of £14,000 – £20,000.
“This does not include the cost of media advertisements, which we will undertake internally, but includes potential specialist testing and assessment preparation and analysis.
“In addition to this support, the media campaign could be sourced externally or delivered internally. Internally this would involve the design and preparation of a campaign web site and media advertising through our existing advertisement agency.
“If externally sourced, this preparation would include advice, design on media/web materials and development of a campaign approach.
“This would cost in the region of £6,000 (this excludes the cost of any advertising media). At present it is felt that we have the skills internally to undertake this task with the option of utilising any specialist support as necessary.”
With regards to advertising the role, the report states: “Legislation requires the Council to publicly advertise any post where the remuneration is £100,000 or more, unless the period of appointment is no longer than 12 months.
“The role will therefore be advertised in a national broad sheet newspaper as well as on the internet. Internal applicants will be encouraged to apply as well as external applicants.”
However leader of the Plaid Cymru group, Cllr Marc Jones challenged these figures, stating: “At a time where we are being asked to make difficult decisions and shave a few thousand pounds off budgets here and there which impact on people’s lives and impact on worker’s futures in the council, I have to question the rationale behind spending so much money on this post.
“I have every faith in our HR department and I have every faith in our media team to deliver this kind of service. If we don’t have that faith in them we have to seriously consider why aren’t we pooling our resources with other north Wales councils to ensure we have the resources we need in house to deliver these. I cannot support this because of the waste of money.”
However Cllr Pritchard hit back at the comments, stating the council has to “cast our net as wide as we can to hopefully catch the best candidate”.
He continued: “If we just put an advert locally within the Wrexham Leader or on Wrexham.com, obviously we wouldn’t get the right calibre of individual. It’s self-explanatory Marc, that is why we cast our net and go nationally and we go as wide as we can.
“The Chief Executive sat up there didn’t see the advert on Wrexham.com or in the Leader.
“We’re recruiting the Chief Executive – it is the main post within the authority. It is the biggest post here. We have to recruit the right individual and that is why we spend this amount of money to go out and get the right candidate and I don’t want to sound flippant.
“I meant it when I said if we advertised locally we certainly wouldn’t get the right individual. That’s why we cast our nets wide.”
Cllr Pritchard also said he would not include an amendment for the Chief Executive to live in the county borough, stating it was their choice where they live, not the councils.
He added: “It’s their own personal choice. If they want to live in England or over the border in Chester, or anywhere else and commute here, so be it. If they want to live in Wrexham, that’s great too. It’s their choice, not ours.
“If anybody tried to force me through an employment process to live somewhere I didn’t want to, I probably wouldn’t even go for the advert.
“I think if you put that in, it would reduce the number of candidates you would have because you’re enforcing an individual and a family to live within Wrexham. I think the report is excellent.”
However head of corporate and customer services, Trevor Coxon stated that legally “it would be fraught with difficulty to enforce” someone to live in the county borough.
He said: “Firstly there are many employees of this council, not all of whom will live within the county borough area. Therefore there is an issue with fairness and secondly, rather as the leader referred to, I’m not sure how enforceable a condition would be if you appointed someone and they didn’t live within the county.
“I think you would have grave difficulty in legally trying to enforce that sort of a condition. I would invite you to consider not pursing that particular amendment.”
Cllr Jones agreed to withdraw the amendment that whoever is appointed to the role of Chief Executive should live in the county borough.
It was also agreed that the wording of a recommendation to show ‘willingness’ for the Chief Executive to learn to speak Welsh, was changed to ‘a commitment’.
This was voted through, along with the initial recommendations by a majority of councillors, with the three Plaid Cymru councillors voting against.
The meeting also paid tribute to Dr Paterson’s tenure as Chief Executive, as we have detailed here.