St Helens Council leader says Greens 'did not understand' management restructure vote

St Helens Council leader David Baines
St Helens Council leader David Baines

The leader of St Helens Council has claimed Green Party councillors failed to back a shake-up of the council’s senior management team because they did not understand what they were voting for.

Proposals outlining the restructure was approved by full council in December, although Green councillors David O’Keefe and David van der Burg abstained from the vote.

The new senior management structure will be comprised of an executive leadership team, led by the chief executive, three executive directors and an assistant chief executive.
Together, they will be tasked with delivering the authority’s ‘One Council’ modernisation programme.

This week, the council’s overview and scrutiny commission were given an update on the One Council agenda, which is split into eight different workstreams.

During the meeting, St Helens Council leader David Baines claimed the Greens did not vote for the restructure because they “didn’t understand it”, despite being briefed by officers.

Coun O’Keefe, leader of the St Helens Greens, shouted out that it was not true and accused the council leader of making a “cheap jibe”.

But the Labour leader responded by saying he has an email from Coun O’Keefe that confirms he did not understand the proposals.

In response, Coun O’Keefe, said: “I think it’s really sad and unfortunate that Coun Baines felt the need to make a cheap jibe at another political group.

“I understood that overview and scrutiny had no time for party-political issues on stuff and I feel that’s very unfortunate that Coun Baines has decided to bring that up.

“It’s very, very, very sad and I think it’s very unbecoming of a council leader.”

Earlier in the meeting, Caroline Barlow, the council’s director for customer and digital, said significant progress has been made on the One Council agenda.

But Liberal Democrat councillor Michael Haw said a lot of what has been presented so far is full of “PR speak and corporate jargon”.

He asked how the council will communicate to the public how the modernisation plans is going to benefit them.

Ms Barlow said the modernisation is primarily internal so the communications strategy will be for staff and not for the wider public.

She said the biggest impact on residents will fall under the ‘One Resident’ workstream, mostly when the council relaunches its website and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

Ms Barlow said repeatedly during the meeting that much of the work is around making council staff more “agile”.

Coun Baines said the One Council agenda is key to the local authority becoming a modern, more efficient council.

He said that, under his leadership, Labour is “determined” to change the culture of the council.

Coun Baines said: “There’s a habit out there among residents to think of the council as something that says no, something that doesn’t always offer the help or support that we could.

“Too often at too many levels the first answer when you ask for support from the council is no, or to make things more difficult and put barriers up or be perceived to be doing that.

“We’re trying to change that culture and we’re determined to do that.”