A TOP interim official at City of York Council has written candidly about the 'axe-wielding' role of people in her position.
Sarah Tanburn, who has been appointed as interim director of city and environmental services to shepherd York's controversial Local Plan through the planning process, says interim managers should bring a cool head to assessing risks, pointing out that no course of action is risk free and helping colleagues and members to work out which risks are most manageable and how to address them.
"Inevitably, interim managers can be the axe-wielders," says Ms Tanburn in an article she has written in a personal capacity in the Local Government Chronicle.
She says she has been an interim manager since 2003 and so has had her share of joining councils in the midst of difficult decisions.
She claims York needs a Local Plan urgently but often such issues became politicised, especially where local people cared passionately about the decision and could raise money for judicial campaigning.
"Stakeholders may admit, possibly only in private, that the proposals are the ‘least worst’ thing to do, although some cannot allow such an opening for negotiation," she says.
"Public law is complex and not always well tested. The parameters of a comprehensive and efficient library service, or the status of a property strategy, can need robust challenge with counsel or in the courts, with no obvious answers. Always, such processes face intense time and capacity constraints.
"Senior managers in local authorities face these challenges all the time. Sometimes, however, a council has an unexpected requirement and an interim is the best solution. If so, that manager should be able to offer you help beyond being the extra pair of hands and ensuring the decision-taking process itself is well managed."
Ms Tanburn says experience across many authorities may suggest new approaches. "I have taken planning techniques and applied them to developing sports facilities, not incidentally helping the leadership out of a quandary."
She says interim managers have the ability to 'offer some blunt truths to power,' and as an interim manager, she had often found it 'that little bit easier to state the unpalatable reality to corporate colleagues or to members, both in power and in opposition,' opening up space for compromise and deliverability.
"If they don’t like it and want to dispose of my services, that’s easily done with no hard feelings on either side," she adds. "When your authority is facing the tough choices, reflecting on the interim experience may give you some of the benefits of being just that step away."