Recent editions of the Express have broken the news that our chief executive, Steve Rumbelow, is to leave his post in December and the decision to spend £25,000 on “consultants” to head hunt his replacement.
This last has highlighted some dissent with Council Leader Mark Townsend justifying this spend and Unison organiser Peter Thorne saying this is wasteful and unnecessary at a time when his fellow workers are losing their jobs.
Mr Thorne, who works within the council, describes it as “one well paid job” and should know what he is talking about. How much do we need a chief executive and how much good does a chief executive (or town clerk as they used to be called) do? Certainly an organisation such as a borough council needs an efficient administrator but, to judge from the remarks of Coun. Mark Townsend, our Mr Rumbelow, who is off to a no doubt even better paid position in Rochdale, is responsible for every good thing that has happened in recent years in Burnley: “Burnley’s loss will be Rochdale’s gain”.
Really? Let’s just have a look at the record. Over the nearly eight years he has been in charge it has cost Burnley residents about £1m. to employ Mr Rumbelow.
During that time there have been some serious failures: the decision to put much of our money at risk in an Icelandic bank, most of which we were lucky to get back; the money spent on buying up the former Derby Hotel to demolish it, leaving a useless, vacant site at the gateway to the town (that one, for which the Labour Party blamed our MP, then the council leader, nearly got Julie Cooper elected five years sooner than may otherwise be the case.)
Then there is the contemptible treatment of the residents of Burnley Wood in their attempt to keep their community centre. How about the Woodtop School, a listed building on the “at risk” register, for which there were excellent plans for redevelopment when the council bought it but which, five years on, appears to have been bought to do nothing other than be left to fall down?
What about the length of time it took to demolish so much of the town’s terraced housing in the name of regeneration? Even if you agree much of this had to go, a time lag, often exceeding five years, between buying a house to getting it flat on the floor, is inexcusable.
These were all poor decisions. Even though councillors approved them, they will have originated with council officers who produced the plans and sought their approval by councillors. Maybe it isn’t fair of me to launch an attack on Mr Rumbelow who is our servant and not a politician used to the rough and tumble of party politics, but in his case Mr Rumbelow has never been shy of any photo opportunity or being associated with anything which has gone right in this town.
Let’s have a look at some of the successes: the Weavers’ Triangle perhaps; the new Burnley College; the Burnley Bridge development; all these are of benefit to us but they have only been possible because of funding from central Government and how difficult is it to spend the money?
I, for one, will not be regretting the departure of Mr Rumbelow. What qualities ought we to be looking for in his successor? How about someone who has actually run a business and knows how to spend money wisely (because if you don’t, businesses go under) and who already lives here or has enough commitment to this town to make his home here - something Steve Rumbelow never did.
Maybe better still, take a lead from what Pendle is doing. There Pendle Chief Executive Steven Barnes, who worked his way to the top spending practically all his working life in the same council and has an excellent record as a diligent public servant, is retiring. His replacement is to be his deputy, Philip Mousdale, and no additional staff are to be employed resulting in a significant saving. Pendle is also at least looking at saving costs by passing control of services over to the parish and town councillors, such as myself, a Nelson town councillor, who are paid nothing at all for the work we do.