Thurrock Council - A Client Perspective

31 March 2010

Why did he need to fill the Director of Children’s Services post on an interim basis?

Bob says he knew it would take some time to find a permanent director.  He is candid about Thurrock’s reputation in the labour market and describes it as a difficult appointment to make in light of the poor direction of travel statement by the audit commission.

Bob was looking for an interim who would be able to take charge of a demanding service with high risk issues as part of the remit.  He needed a candidate with a sense of maturity and the ability to make judgements about the level of risk; someone who could cope with the management of the department and was able to deal with the government inspectorate associated with the job.  There was a need too to maintain momentum in the re-building of the relationship with head teachers in the authority.

Bob describes the director’s post as having a huge range of responsibilities with the twin giants of social care and education both competing for funding.  In his experience many  people’s careers follow either one route or the other.  The challenges of the job were not unique to Thurrock.  He says that all councils are operating on a tight budget whilst dealing with increasing demand, which in children’s services means more children in care.  The publicity surrounding the Baby P case in Haringey has put more pressure on departments all over the country to take direct responsibility and the interim director had to be able to make threshold judgements about when a child should be the subject of a care order.

In Bob’s opinion, Malcolm was suited to the post in several ways.  He had the necessary skills base and the maturity and the ability to instil and maintain confidence both internally and externally.  And this was key in this instance.  Malcolm had already worked in an authority which hadn’t been doing well and he had made a major contribution to improving it, so when he came to Thurrock he was able to build confidence in senior management after a difficult time.  “All this meant that he had the respect of the management, the members saw he had enormous experience, and he had the real intellectual capability to do the job”.

Reflecting on the interim role generally, Bob thinks it’s rare for an interim to come in simply to maintain the status quo in a well-run service with no major developments either looming or in the recent past.  There are normally projects and programmes to be tackled.  Speaking from personal experience he believes an interim chief executive or director of service must be seen to add something and of course the longer they’re in the position, the higher the expectations, he says.  If an interim is only in place for short period he wouldn’t expect them to make major changes to people or systems, nevertheless he’d hope they would try to deal with challenging issues and move them forward.


Categories: Local Government

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