Friday 3 April 2015

Power pose

Carmarthenshire County Council is clearly determined to push ahead fast with the controversial Carmarthen West development, with the press office announcing that work will soon begin on felling trees and clearing bushes along the route of the £5 million plus link road.

It will be recalled that the Welsh Government intervened and imposed a condition that the massive housing development could not go ahead without the link road being built first, and as the developers were not about to stump up the money, the council announced that it would borrow and raid its reserves to find the money in the hope that it would be able to claw that back at some point in the future.

The Executive Board met to consider proposals for funding the link road on 9 March, and as always unanimously approved a deal which will now have to go before the full county council. That has not happened yet, and judging from statements made by the council it is by no means clear whether it has actually hammered out agreement with the various developers, who include at least one company which would seem to qualify for the description of a "one man and a dog" outfit with nothing much in the way of assets.

So the bulldozers are moving in less than a month after the Executive Board meeting, even though the scheme has not been approved by councillors and even though there are question marks over whether the council has actually ensured that it will get its money back.

It is also worth recalling that the entire scheme is politically contentious, and that if the view of the people of Carmarthen as expressed by its elected representatives is anything to go by, there is near unanimous opposition to it locally.

The views of local representatives and the people of Carmarthen don't cut much ice with the recently appointed Director of Environment, Christina Harrhy: "This is an exciting and much needed development for Carmarthen", she opines, having lived here for three months after moving from Torfaen.

Christina may not be about to fill in those potholes along your road, but she is at least very excited about a £5 million project which will make a lot of money for a bunch of East Anglian landowners.

Ms Harrhy was until recently Chief Officer Neighbourhood Services at Torfaen, a role which included responsibility for roads and waste management, and she took up her new post following the retirement of Richard Workman, whose title was Director of Technical Services.

A failed attempt to appoint a new Director in late 2013 was described in a council meeting by Peter Hughes Griffiths, then leader of the Plaid group on Carmarthenshire County Council, as one of the most disgraceful episodes he had witnessed. This blog explained some of the background here, but in essence the allegations concerned external interference in the appointment process.

Those who were present at the meeting will recall the chief executive looking particularly unctuous and blaming the fiasco on a political split.

There were dark mutterings at the time that the split was engineered by Meryl Gravell after she received a mysterious message from "the other side" that the local candidate the appointments committee was about to anoint did not have His blessing.

Sshh! I hear a message coming from above!

At any rate, the appointment process was scuppered amid a swirl of acrimonious accusations.

Roll forward to October 2014 when the appointments committee reconvened to consider a shortlist of three candidates. This time the committee came up with the right answer, and Ms Harrhy was duly appointed, even though the job description stipulated as usual that an ability to communicate in Welsh was essential.

Despite not having those "essential" skills or any previous connection with the area, Ms Harrhy clearly has other attributes which made her the best person for the job. A sense of what makes her tick may perhaps be gained from looking at her Twitter feed.

It is common practice for civil servants, BBC journalists and others in non-political roles to put up a disclaimer on their Twitter accounts saying that just because they retweet somebody else's views does not mean that they endorse them. There is no such disclaimer on Ms Harrhy's account.

Surprisingly for a non-political senior officer, politics feature quite a lot in her Twitter feed. Among those who feature during the last few weeks, presumably with approval, are Jane Hutt (Labour), the veteran Welsh Government Finance Minister (twice in the last month); Rosemary Butler (Labour); Julie James AM (Labour) saying she was delighted to give the closing speech following a "fantastic debate" on education at Labour's spring conference; Leighton Andrews (Labour) and two tweets to mark the retirement from Parliament of Paul Murphy (erm, Labour).

When not tweeting about Labour, Ms Harrhy is keen to share with us gleanings from the world of management gurus, that largely American industry which makes billions out of common sense repackaged as hype, Studies in the Bleedin' Obvious, drivel and mystical incantations about "deep change", "growing your leadership potential" and becoming generally more awesome.

"If your boss thinks you're awesome, will you become more awesome?" is one question we are invited to ponder. Only Mark James knows the answer to that one.

Other advice is to sleep sprawled out rather than curled up. This is called a power pose. Apparently, if you practise your power pose before going into a meeting and adopt the "Wonder Woman" stance, you will pump up your confidence, be perceived as more authoritative and generally feel like a happy warrior.

If staff and councillors in County Hall spot Ms Harrhy with arms outstretched and legs akimbo, she's probably just preparing for a meeting.

You also need to be an energiser. If you want to influence others, you must be fully present and focused when you interact with them.

Who would have thought it?

Next there is the word "because". All you need to do is jump a queue and tell those who have patiently been waiting their turn that you are doing this "because", and they will happily let you to the front.

Using the word "because" increases your chances of getting you what you want by 33%, but don't try it in Aldi.

And finally, Christina Harrhy is obviously very keen on Dan V Forbes whose Lead with Giants programme aims to uplift over 10,000 leaders. Tune in and you too will benefit from pearls of wisdom including, "Never pass up an opportunity to say, I appreciate you".

As a follower of Dan, you will be asked to tweet your Word of the Day. Here are some recent examples:


Redhead said...

I believe this falls foul of purdah rules and therefore creates an offence to be reported. It does not stick to facts - it includes subjective political statements from a senior officer who must show neutrality.

Jac o' the North, said...

Many of those reading this blog will be familiar with the general malaise at CCC but unfamiliar with all the details. I'm equally sure that many now believe Mark James has had his comeuppance and is on his way out. They will be surprised therefore to learn that his control over the council remains undiminished. Perhaps you could briefly explain how CCC is in this bizarre situation.

Cneifiwr said...

Jac, in a nutshell the regime went through a very turbulent period in 2013/14. The only people who could have acted to bring the show to an end were in Cardiff Bay, and after a little tut tutting, they averted their gaze.

The only thing which is likely finally to bring the curtain down is the promised reorganisation of local government in 2-3 years from now.

In the meantime, it's back to business as usual, and the lesson learned in County Hall is that nobody higher up the food chain has any appetite to intervene.

Redhead said...

CEOs of councils (or clerks as they used to be called) are harder to remove than CEOs of the Top 100 companies. One reason to do without them as many councils are now doing by sharing and dividing the power to more people who are easier and quicker to make redundant/fire if they misbehave.

They have powerful allies and know where bodies are buried - largely because they were responsible for the bodies, the graves, the gravediggers and the cemetaries. And in this analogy, the bodies are ours, the gravediggers are majority councillors and the cemetaries are the privatised and/or grant-funded landholdings owned and operated by pals of said CEO and councillors!