Changing times

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THERE is a mood of change in the air at the council at the moment and, whether we like it or not, things will be different in the months to come.

Many of the changes are being imposed upon us through the Government cuts in funding and we have no choice but to change the way we run many services or if indeed we even run some of them at all.

People will debate all day whether change is a good thing or not and the more nostalgic among us will always hark back to the “good old days” when everything was supposedly much better and everything ran much more smoothly.

Others will be always looking to the future and insisting that change is essential to keep up with the times and not get left behind.

I think there is a happy medium somewhere along the lines of operating in a world where the need for change is imperative but that the need to learn lessons from how things used to be done is just as important and it should be the drive for improvement that makes change a necessity rather than the drive for change itself.

As I’ve mentioned, government spending in cuts is the main reason behind much of the change at the council at the moment and with the need to find more than £14m more worth of savings over the next year, much more change is being forced upon us.

One future change that the Government is not responsible for though will be a change at the head of Hartlepool Borough Council with the news that the chief executive, Paul Walker, has put in his notice and is looking to retire at the end of August.

Paul has been a fantastic servant to Hartlepool and is without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best chief executives in the business.

He will be a big loss to the council and I wish him the very best in whatever he decides to do in his retirement.

Although Paul’s retirement presents the council with a big challenge, it also presents us with a huge opportunity to take stock and have a look at all of the options that are open to us on how the organisation could be led and managed in the future.

The need to generate financial savings will play a part in any option that comes forward but, more importantly, it gives us a chance to be a little innovative and creative with some of the potential solutions.

Any one of the current corporate management team is more than capable of stepping up to the plate if called upon on either a temporary or permanent basis.

Hartlepool has a great reputation in local government circles and if we decide to go through an external recruitment process, I’m certain that we will attract some of the very best talent in country.

I’ve mentioned before about the possibility of exploring the opportunity to share a chief executive with another local authority and the Government seems very keen to get rid of chief executives altogether and combine the role with that of an elected mayor on places where that system operates.

These are just some of the possible options and there are about half a dozen others which need to be examined.

Each option brings with it many pros and cons and it will be a matter of finding the option which fits best and is right for Hartlepool.

The next couple of months will be spent analysing the options with my cabinet members and the rest of the council, gradually eliminating the ones which are not deemed suitable, until we are left with one or two real possibilities.

In the meantime, the need to continually look at how we are going to balance next year’s budget and what other changes and improvements are needed will still be at the top of everyone’s agenda.

Whatever option we decide to go with, it is essential that the transition is as smooth as possible and the leadership of the organisation remains in tact.

In actual fact, the council, as an organisation, is constantly changing and always has been.

The town too has constantly been changing and I would say, very much for the better.

Change will continue and although the mood has been a bit gloomy over the last 12 months, I am extremely optimistic about the future.

I believe we are on the cusp of some big changes that will be hugely beneficial to Hartlepool.

As a town, we have always come out of more difficult times much stronger and more resilient.

That resilience will once again see us through the current situation and I feel we will come out of it much sooner than people think.

Perhaps I am a “glass half full” type of person, but I have absolute faith in the town and its people to embrace the changes that lie ahead and we will come out of these tough times much better for it.