City 'should scrap the role of chief executive'

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EDINBURGH'S political leaders were today urged to scrap the post of chief executive and take responsibility for key decisions themselves.

David McLetchie, Conservative MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands, claimed top councillors were too ready to blame officials for unpopular decisions.

And he said abolishing the council's top post would be a major saving in these cash-strapped times.

His proposal comes as city leaders prepare to appoint a replacement for long-serving council chief executive Tom Aitchison, who is due to retire later this year.

Mr McLetchie said: "There is this idea we have to have a chief executive, but what is the leader of the council for if not to take executive decisions?"

He said the city council should be prepared to consider new models.

"You could have an elected person taking the principle executive decisions and by all means have heads of the relevant departments. But the whole concept of a chief executive is a negation of the idea of democratic accountability.

"Personally, I think cities like Edinburgh should have elected mayors with executive powers and they should be taking the executive decisions. That would create more democratic accountability instead of blaming officials all the time."

He said although the Edinburgh chief executive's salary was quoted as 160,000, the total remuneration was far higher with pension and other payments taken into account.

"In these cash-strapped times, scrapping the post would be a big saving."

Mr McLetchie's call follows the decision by an English local authority to scrap its chief executive. Rugby council now combines the council leader and chief executive roles, with individual heads of services taking more responsibility for day-to-day management.

Last month, England communities minister Eric Pickles branded the post of council chief executive a "non-job".

He said there was "no difference" between the job of local authority leader and local authority chief executive.

Edinburgh City Council's regulatory committee has already drawn up a "long list" of contenders to replace Mr Aitchison. Interviews are due to take place a week today.

It emerged earlier this month that Dr Maggie Atkinson, the children's commissioner for England who sparked controversy by suggesting Jamie Bulger's killers shouldn't have stood trial, was among the names in the running for the role.Others on the long list included three internal candidates - Mark Turley, services for communities director; Peter Gabbitas, health and social care director; and Dave Anderson, city development director - along with Helen Bailey, from HM Treasury; Sue Bryce, chief executive of Aberdeen City Council; David Hume, chief executive of Scottish Borders Council; and Susan Johnson, chief executive of County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue.