Lawyers are “key corporate champions and players” in local government and will have a vital role to play in helping councils cope with the inevitable funding squeeze after the general election, the new president of the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors (ACSeS) has said.
Mirza Ahmad, Corporate Director of Governance at Birmingham City Council, told delegates at the ACSeS conference in Leeds last week that lawyers are “part of the solution, not the problem”– what is key, however, is how they deliver their services.
“Clearly there are threats and opportunities,” he added. “We all know that the recession is going to be an issue, we know that central government of any persuasion will have ideas in relation to the budget difficulties we face in the future.”
The new president pointed out that developments such as “Total Place, partnerships, general power of competence, a new government and headcount reductions all require essential input from us”.
Ahmad, who took over from Andrew Frosdick, Borough Secretary at Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, was the driving force behind ACSeS’ first publication, which was launched at the Leeds conference.
He said the themes for his presidential year would be adding value to local governance, and “firing up the passion” for leadership and excellence.
“We are leaders at all levels,” insisted Ahmad. “We need to untap the talent that exists, we need to develop and we need to lead the wider debate. We also need to think about how we train our future leaders.”
A survey conducted for the ACSeS publication found that just under half of its members are on the top team in their local authority (49% compared to 51% who are not). Some 42% have a direct reporting line into the chief executive, while 48% report to a director, 7% to a head of service and 3% to an assistant director of service.
“The concerns around the role of the monitoring officer and the chief lawyer going to the second or third tier (of management) are clear to see,” Ahmad said.
Susan Tovey, head of legal services at Test Valley Borough Council, stepped up to first vice-president at the ACSeS annual general meeting, while Philip McCourt of Milton Keynes Council assumed the mantle of second vice-president. Mark Hynes, director of legal and democratic services at the London Borough of Lambeth and ACSeS treasurer, was elected third vice-president and is line to take up the presidency in 2012.