The Frater Report published July 2009 was produced by Michael Frater, the interim Chief Executive brought in to address the failings of Surrey County Council. He exposed a culture within the leadership – both members and officers – of bureaucratic centralised power, arrogance and lack of customer focus. Furthermore, he wrote of bullying behaviour and the worst financial mismanagement he had ever seen in years of working in local authorities. Here are some extracts:
As a result of the geographic size of Surrey, the scale of the County Council’s operation
and the more limited range of services compared to an urban or metropolitan unitary
council the County Council is also seen as remote by a number of partners and District
and Borough Councils. All of this has contributed to, or been fed by a stance or style that
is viewed as superior and arrogant. This is not a sound base on which to build a healthy
culture, effective partnerships, or a customer focussed organisation.
The problems identified above have been compounded by a significant breakdown in
mutual trust and confidence within the County Council.
Finally, in terms of leadership style, (and this is entirely consistent with the earlier points)
the organisation is very internally focussed, obsessed with itself, with its own processes
and bureaucracy. The corollary is that there is less focus on outcomes, residents,
communities and working in partnership.
A particularly worrying feature of the management style frequently referred to by both
backbench Members and managers is a ‘macho’ style, a blame culture and bullying which
is carried out and experienced by both Members and officers. This must be challenged
and action taken. It is wholly unacceptable.
The Way Forward: It is not all gloom and doom, the county council has a lot going for it, not least some very
talented and committed County councillors and equally talented and committed senior
managers. That talent and commitment is not confined to the senior levels of the
organisation. The response of some of our most junior staff during the heavy snow in
February highlighted just how committed our staff are to providing good services to the
residents of Surrey. What is clear from the Employee Survey is that staff are looking for
leadership, clarity about purpose and direction and regular feedback of how they and the
County council are doing.
Here is a summary found on the Surrey Tax Action Group website.
It is interesting to read the following blog post – On street parking force – in the context of the Frater report. It was written in September 2011 (2 plus years after the Frater Report) by Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Reigate, Peter Lambell.
I’m willing to bet that the Cabinet Member for Transport on Surrey County Council regrets even thinking about trying to introduce on street Pay and Display to towns and villages in Surrey.
The policy has seen a huge backlash from businesses, residents and Councillors alike, and the process of implementation has become farcical. Following the countywide outcry, decisions on detailed implementation were handed to SCC Local Committees, leading to a confusing patchwork of different charging regimes and restrictions being recommended. The business case is tenuous at best and the claimed savings unproven.
And to add to the confusion, the Cabinet at County Hall can overrule any decisions made if they don’t like what is decided.
Shockingly, the situation has become so heated that David Hodge – the Deputy Leader of Surrey County Council has had to write to the chairmen of the Local Committees after it emerged that some Councillors have been bullying Council staff who have the job of trying to guide them through this policy quagmire.