A Faer Point: The importance of civil discussion and debate

Published: 26 October 2023


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As well as an unimaginable degree of misery and destruction, the Middle East conflict has also created a strikingly polarised public debate.

Tribal lines are defended with a level of certainty that exemplifies the old saying about ‘more heat than light’.

Fixed positions and entrenched views also exist in local government, with serious consequences for organisational health. Speaking at the Solace Summit, Matt Prosser described a ‘shift away from civility which has impacted at the local level, with deteriorating standards of behaviour in local government’.

Chief executives and directors can be acutely affected by poor behaviour, experiencing a tension between their role in leading the organisation and exemplifying its values – not to mention their democratic responsibility to work impartially – and an inability to moderate the excesses of competing political groups. And there are realworld consequences: Mr Prosser believes poor behaviours have contributed to financial problems in a ‘small but not insignificant’ number of councils. ‘We need a standards system with teeth,’ he added.

For me, this prompts another thought. It’s a truism that (even at the best of times) it can be lonely at the top; so how does a chief executive deal with a conflict seemingly beyond their remit or power to resolve, but which could have a devastating effect on their organisation? How do they ensure their own resilience and wellbeing, in what can be a chronically depleting role?

Solace and the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers both offer professional support networks, where senior officers can talk through knotty problems safely with a confidential and sympathetic peer. Events like the summit provide a precious dedicated space for recharging batteries and refocusing energy. I’d also advocate for the power of a coach – a professional, objective confidant with your interests at heart and a guide in navigating the thorniest of thickets.

Martin Tucker is managing director of Faerfield. Originally published in the Municipal Journal on 26 October 2023.


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