Diary - The future is ... green

6th February 2009 at 00:00

We have a new chief executive and he has been handed a poisoned chalice. The Ruling Group need to make massive budget cuts and are in need of the bicycle clips. There will be no constipation in council HQ this month. Our new CE comes to us from a starring role with one of the London boroughs, where he gained a reputation for rhetoric and ruthlessness. His ego had well and truly landed and he was tailor-made for this job - not.

His only connections with Scotland were that he had once bought a Bay City Rollers LP for his sister and had an aunt who liked Crabbie's Ginger Wine. I met him for the first time and was hugely under-impressed. He was a walking cliche and the jargon-ridden address to the senior management team was vomit-inducing. We needed to think out of the box, be pro-active, sing from the same hymn sheet and get all our ducks in a row. Quite.

He wanted me, as head of the biggest-spending service, to offer the bulk of the Pounds 26m "savings" he had promised to deliver. I was to down-size, push the envelope and have a thought shower. Every morning? I was to touch base with him daily and keep my 360-degree thinking in gear. At the end of the day, at this moment in time, he wanted to be helpful to me. I wanted to be helpful, too.

He asked me for advice, as he had been invited to address an organisation on "The Credit Crunch in Local Government." Now, the CE was an innocent at large when it came to the ways of the Scots. He showed me the invite and I tried hard to suppress my laughter. It was from the Right Worshipful Master of the local Orange Lodge. He asked me if I could "brief" him on issues or entrapments. He hadn't heard of any Orange Lodge. Were they Dutch immigrants or something?

I heard a voice ringing in my head. I informed him that school closures and mergers were a big issue and that he should avoid any hints at what might be cut from the education budget. I advised him to "dress down" for the meeting and go for the relaxed, informal and laid-back approach. If you really want to win them over, wear something green.

Even better, I said, he should wear this little pin-badge. I told him it was a shamrock with three leaves. Highly symbolic. It represented the three key strands of service improvement - excellence, enthusiasm and efficiency. I declined his invite to accompany him, but said I would be only too pleased to drop him off at the venue. It was the least I could do.

At the next morning's meeting of the SMT, our new leader looked shell-shocked. He was speechless, utterly dejected and almost in tears. His face was green - not his usual perma-tan orange.

Next month: budget meltdown part 2.

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