A Faer Point: The role of a Chief Executive amid electoral transition

Published: 22 February 2024


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Last week’s by-election results got me pondering the electoral ‘changing of the guard’ that underpins our democratic local government system. In some areas, there’s often a fine balance of political representation, meaning that change is a familiar experience, and the organisation is well-drilled in the process of handover. In others, of course, administrations last for decades...until all of a sudden, they don’t.

In either case, the Chief Executive of the local authority must act as an impartial public servant, who supports the council through the transition and helps it to arrive at the new normal. But this is a significant responsibility, and – even if change is long-anticipated – sometimes difficult to prepare for. 

So, what can we do to support chief executives (and aspirant CEOs) with this part of their role? What are the critical success factors for a smooth and universally endorsed change of administration? And what might be the risks of becoming too closely identified – fairly or unfairly – with the outgoing group?

Last October saw the LGA and Solace launch the first Local Government Chief Executives’ Development Framework – a ‘how to’ handbook for this complex role. It defines seven core themes of the professional curriculum, including ‘Politics and the political interface’, and it’s interesting to note that there’s a strong strand of openness and inclusion in its guidance.

It advises open channels of communication not only with all group leaders, but also MPs and other local political actors. Moreover, it recommends regular meetings of the core officer group to discuss the current local political landscape, as well as the dynamics within and between parties.

Whilst this is sometimes easier said than done, last week’s events in Wellingborough and Kingswood remind us that it would be unwise to neglect the important role that a chief executive plays in developing a healthy culture of political engagement right across a local authority. 

Originally published in the MJ, 22 February 2024.


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