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Highland Council announces a major senior management restructure after the departure of education boss

By Scott Maclennan

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Highland Council headquarters.
Highland Council headquarters.

Highland Council has announced a major management restructure hot on the heels of the mysterious departure of its controversial education boss Nicky Grant.

It is the first outward move by chief executive Derek Brown to establish his authority over the organisation after they changes were first tabled in the budget and then agreed by councillors back in March.

The plan is to combine the eight service departments into what the council calls three “service clusters” each led by an assistant chief executive who will report directly to the chief executive.

The deputy chief executive post and seven executive chief officer (ECO) posts, with some filled on a temporary basis or vacant, will be removed.

The new service clusters will be:

People - combining Health & Social Care and Education & Learning

Place - combining Community & Place, Housing & Property and Infrastructure, Environment & Economy

Corporate - combining the existing Depute Chief Executive Service, Performance & Governance, and Resources & Finance

The People cluster is by far the best funded with at least £331 million – Health & Social Care and Education are the council’s two biggest spends. It will also be one of the most challenging briefs amid an adult social care crisis and major school and schooling problems too.

The Place cluster will handle everything from social housing to planning applications and bin collections. Crucially, it will also handle significant investment in infrastructure and for most people that means roads, and roads mean potholes.

Finally, the Corporate cluster is very much the fundamental structure of local government – budgets, law, guidance, obligations, regulations and oversight. Externally, except for the budget, it is not the most interesting but without it any council would not function.

The council said that change “reconfigures the senior management team into two layers, rather than three and brings Highland Council into line with other benchmarked authorities.

“The new senior structure will initially deliver savings of £310,000, as part of the budget savings agreed by council in February. It is anticipated that savings will eventually equate to around 20 per cent of senior management team costs.”

The council stated that by bringing the current eight services into three service clusters will: support collaborative working; strengthen strategy and links to operational delivery; align with the Highland Outcome Improvement Plan; and support delivery of the Our Future Highland Programme.

That means significant changes of personnel but the recruitment to the three assistant chief executive posts has already started and it is expected that appointments will be made by the end of April. The successful candidates will take up their posts from the start of May.

The current 16 head of service posts, some of which are filled on a temporary basis, will then be deleted and replaced with 14 chief officer posts, into which existing ECOs can be matched and current heads of service can be recruited through what the council calls “a ring-fencing process.“

This second phase of the restructure is due to commence in August/September and conclude by December.

Council leader Raymond Bremner said: “Members have agreed the new senior management structure which will not only deliver required budget savings but also make Highland Council’s management structure more equivalent to other local authorities.

“The new structure will help the council to deliver the priorities in its programme, budget strategy and delivery plan while achieving better outcomes for local communities.”

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