East Devon: District council agrees a £30,000 budget for new staff roles to support the authority’s restructure

A spend of £30,000 on staffing costs has been agreed for new roles in East Devon aimed at supporting a district council restructure.

A restructure of senior officers at East Devon has been agreed as the authority announces its new chief executive, writes local democracy reporter Bradley Gerrard.

Tracy Hendren emerged as the preferred candidate from an initial field of 20, and was recommended as the best person for the job after a two-day long interview process of four finalists.

Ms Hendren’s appointment was unanimously approved by Councillors at an extraordinary council meeting this week (Wednesday, May 8), and straight away a restructure within the senior team of officers was proposed.

The council currently has three directors under the chief executive, but will now create a director of housing and health, and a director of place, meaning four directors under the new boss.

Councillors agreed a budget of up to £30,000 for the recruitment costs involved.

Ms Hendren, who prior to her new role was one of three interim CEOs at the council and its director of housing, health and environment, said the current structure within the senior and officer team was “imbalanced” and needed to be amended.

“We have some challenges with housing financial viability and we want to make sure we have a director focusing on housing and housing stock moving forward,” she said.

In Ms Hendren’s director role, she said she had seven direct reports “covering very different services”.

“What we want to do is recruit a director of place and a director of housing and health which will rebalance some of that structure,” she said.

She said was “confident” the two directors would have similar combined staffing numbers to the size of the team at present, suggesting it was therefore more “direct line management changes rather than a full restructure”.

The aim is to put interim directors into the new posts, providing so-called ‘acting up’ opportunities for internal staff to take on the roles while the recruitment process for permanent staff from a potential pool of internal and external candidates takes place.

She added that all directors had been asked to prepare proposals for the longer-term structures of their teams, including their financial viability.

“We’re not bringing this plan because we want to increase staffing costs,” she said.

“We are going to manage it within existing resources in the same way we did when we made changes to the housing team earlier this year.”

Councillor Mike Goodman (Conservative, Sidmouth Sidford) queried whether the changes could really be made with no impact on the budget.

“I was slightly surprised at that,” he said, adding: “So will the restructure come within the current finances?”

Ms Hendren said “absolutely”, reaffirming the example of the recent housing restructure.

The new interim directors are expected to start on June 1, enabling Ms Hendren to begin her new role on the same day. Permanent recruits could take three or four months to secure, the meeting heard.

Leader Paul Arnott (Liberal Democrat, Coly Valley) said the restructure “makes the most enormous sense” following the departure over the past four years of a deputy chief executive, former director of housing, health and environment John Golding, who retired last year, and the departure of another senior staff member.

“I think this is very welcome and long overdue, and it’s worth restating that the new chief executive won the role from a field of 20 pretty outstanding applicants,” he said.

“And while it wasn’t preordained that she would win, she did, and the advantage of that [to the council]is that we can get on with this restructure immediately rather than in what would have been six months’ time [with an external candidate],” he said.

Councillor Eleanor Rylance (Liberal Democrat, Broadclyst), the chair of the council, also acknowledged the “pretty gruelling” interview process undertaken to select the new chief executive and congratulated Ms Hendren on her new role.

At the same meeting, Melanie Wellman was also reappointed as the council’s returning officer.

Probe into Cranbrook’s maintenance and the upkeep of the district’s new towns is set to cost East Devon taxpayers £80,000