Council chief executive: 'It is crucial the right replacement is found'

IT'S being billed as the "best job in local government in Scotland" – and at a salary of £160,000, they may have a point.

That's what is on offer to tempt a character big enough to be the new chief executive of Edinburgh City Council.

Don't for a minute think this is a meaningless appointment of a behind-the-scenes pen-pusher. It is a nearly once in a generation chance to change the direction this city takes.

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The outgoing incumbent, Tom Aitchison has been in the job since 1995. He has seen elected leaders come and go, and it is the officials he leads who provide the continuity that spans administrations.

That is why it is crucial that the panel which appoints his replacement makes the right choice – especially when pressure on public finances means that the way services are delivered simply must change.

In this context, two internal candidates are flip sides of the same coin – and the metaphor is appropriate: as city development director, Dave Anderson has been effective selling Edinburgh as a business location on the world stage; Mark Turley has impressed in the harder task, leading the charge on cost-cutting in his community services department, by taking on the city's bin men and looking at outsourcing services.

A third internal candidate may be director of social care Peter Gabbitas, and yet others could emerge from the lower ranks. Top lawyer Alastair MacLean is well thought of but it may count against him that he only recently joined from private practice.

But the recruitment panel must not shirk from looking at external candidates – and not just managers from other councils but also those with experience in the outside world.

This, it has to be said, raises the awkward question of the big salary on offer. And, though it sticks in the craw, the bottom line is that top-notch applicants won't come forward for any less – especially from better-paid jobs in business.

Even if the top job does go to a civil servant – and, again, there are good candidates in Waverley Court – the fact that two directors are standing down at the same time as Aitchison represents a further chance to bring in fresh blood.

That should lead to a review of the council's entire structure, which would lead to savings in management costs. The hunt for budget cuts should start by streamlining the unwieldy current set-up of six large and costly departments.