B&NES Council leader calls for "significant change" among WECA bosses

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter

21st Jun 2022 | Local News

Cllr Kevin Guy. B&NES Lib Dems. Permission for use by all partners.
Cllr Kevin Guy. B&NES Lib Dems. Permission for use by all partners.

A council leader has taken the unusual step of publicly criticising top local government officers. 

Cllr Kevin Guy, of Bath & North East Somerset Council – one of three local authorities, along with Bristol and South Gloucestershire, that make up the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) – has called for heads to roll at the regional body.

Without naming chief executive Patricia Greer, who he crossed swords with at a recent committee meeting, or other senior directors, Lib Dem Cllr Guy said "significant change at the top of Weca" was needed to improve collaboration between the combined authority and its three councils.

Asked by BBC Radio Bristol's John Darvall whether he meant elected Labour metro mayor Dan Norris, who heads Weca, Cllr Guy said he was referring to officers, who are neutral, employed, unelected officials similar to civil servants.

Tensions between Mr Norris and the political leaders of the three unitary authorities – Cllr Guy, Bristol city Labour mayor Marvin Rees and South Gloucestershire Council Conservative leader Cllr Toby Savage – have been apparent for months.

But a schism along similar lines has also emerged recently among the chief executives of the four authorities.

Asked by Mr Darvall what would make the combined authority "combined", Cllr Guy said: "That probably needs significant change at the top of Weca."

The mid-morning show host asked: "Are you talking about the officers or are you talking about Dan Norris, the elected mayor?"

Cllr Guy replied: "I'm talking about the officers, yes."

Asked if he believed the officers needed replacing, the council leader said: "I think there needs to be a significant change at the top of Weca and I will leave it at that."

Both Mr Norris and Weca have declined to comment.

Cllr Guy's comments came in the last 30 seconds of a 50-minute slot to answer listeners' questions.

Earlier he insisted the leaders were getting on with each other despite a series of public fallouts, including Mr Norris branding the council leaders the "Hokey Cokey Three" and criticism from the unitary authority heads that the metro mayor and Weca are working secretly in a silo and not collaboratively with them on policy.

Told by Mr Darvall that many residents found the ongoing spats an "absolute joke", Cllr Guy said: "I disagree with the premise we are not getting on. We are getting on."

Speaking on Wednesday, June 15 – the day after the four politicians finally struck a deal at the second attempt to save under-threat subsidised buses – he said: "There was a clear example yesterday that I wasn't going to let anyone leave the Guildhall until we came to a solution.

"We did come to a solution, so it's quite clear we are getting on.

"There are fundamental issues with the governance of Weca. There are issues in the way it was set up, it needs to be looked at.

"It is impossible for local authorities to make decisions when papers are coming out of Weca a few hours before a meeting, a day before a meeting.

"There is no way we are able to make informed, quality decisions if the flow of information from Weca to local authorities is not there.

"I've spoken to Dan about this on many occasions, I've spoken to Marvin and Toby as well.

"It's just about us getting around the table and working it out."

At a meeting of the West of England joint committee – Weca plus North Somerset – in April, Cllr Guy clashed with Mr Norris and Dr Greer over plans by the four council leaders to partially break away from Weca, forge their own identity and have more say over financial decisions.

Dr Greer warned that the political power struggle over who controlled up to £600million of investment in the region, overseen by the joint committee separate to Weca's funding, put the entire money at risk because it would breach an assurance agreement with government that it was spent correctly.

Cllr Savage dismissed this as a "red herring" and Cllr Guy told her: "There is nothing that will fundamentally change the way we deal with government, there is nothing that will fundamentally change the system at all.

"What you've said, Patricia, is wholly inaccurate and misinterpreted what this paper is about."

That decision to plough ahead with the breakaway was called-in by Weca scrutiny councillors who voted by 12-0 in May to urge the four council leaders to reconsider.

Mr Norris told the committee that officers at the combined authority and councils worked well together and that the difficulties were at "very senior levels" only.

"They reside with the chief executives who do not get on with each other," he added.

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