Former council officer from Northumberland criticises dominance of politics in local authority decision-making

An 86-year-old Northumberland man who worked as a senior officer in councils for many years has hit out at the dominance of politics in local government decision-making.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 16th October 2019, 5:45 pm
Alnwick man Ernie Gordon says politicians have too much say.
Alnwick man Ernie Gordon says politicians have too much say.

Alnwick man Ernie Gordon spent almost his entire career in local government and has a number of qualifications in building and civil engineering.

He worked at a number of authorities around the country in roles such as highways and public works superintendent, public works manager, director of works and services and was a highways supervisor for Northumberland County Council upon his retirement in the 1990s.

His main view, which he says applies across the country and not just in Northumberland, is that local authorities are now so driven by politicians and their agendas that the employed experts and officers have little option but to go along with the chosen projects of the day, rather than have a real input into what needs doing and how it should be done.

However, a cabinet member in Northumberland County Council’s current political administration, says that it has to be politically driven so that voters can elect a new council if it doesn’t like what’s being done.

Mr Gordon describes councillors as ‘virtually salaried laypeople’, adding: “They are making decisions or not making decisions on a techincal basis and I question if it’s legally binding on the local authority.

“There’s a lack of senior technical control – it’s got to be wrested back from political control,” he said. “Politics and British standards are two different worlds.”

Mr Gordon claims the major reorganisation in 1974 was the ‘death knell of local government’, when ‘who knew who became more important than experience, training and qualifications’.

Before that, he says, local authorities were ‘great employers’, with training, structured disciplines and employees having to ‘keep getting new arrows for their bow’.

But Coun Nick Oliver, part of the current Conservative leadership at County Hall, said: “In Northumberland, our political administration works closely with council officers to implement the policies we have been elected to deliver.

“I believe the balance is about right and good officers are always willing to highlight any difficulties that may arise.

“It has to be politically driven so the public can elect an administration with different ideas if they are not happy. This happened in 2017.

“It’s a question of balance and we have the balance about right in Northumberland.”

Northumberland County Council itself, the Local Government Association and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace) all declined to comment on Mr Gordon’s views.