Round and round they go

    Never in the same role for long, interim directors parachute
    into clean up the department or hold the fort until the
    appointments committee secures the right person for the big job.
    Derren Hayes meets the bosses who
    don’t want to hang around

    Ian Davey has more in common with former Tottenham Hotspur football
    manager David Pleat than many might realise.

    Just as Pleat was handed the reins at Spurs last September to keep
    the manager’s seat warm for the remainder of the season until
    a permanent successor was found, so Davey has been given a one-year
    brief to act as caretaker for Sutton’s top social services
    job.

    But although this caretaker role is still relatively unusual in the
    football world, it is becoming increasingly common in top-tier
    management in social services. Directors’ posts can become
    vacant overnight and need to be filled quickly and this
    merry-go-round of moves has spawned a new breed of full-time
    interim director.

    The role has some unique demands and it can be difficult to make
    changes while maintaining the respect of front-line staff, senior
    politicians and managers. So what are the pros and cons for the
    employee and the employer?

    One plus is the money. Interim directors are paid salaries more
    akin to those earned by football managers. One interim says he
    “wouldn’t get out of bed for less than £700 a
    day” and knows of others paid more.

    There are no official figures for the number of interim directors
    in the UK, but everybody believes there are more now than five
    years ago. The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives
    (Solace), which also recruits senior public sector managers for
    councils, says its interim management market is worth £10m a
    year – 10 times what it was just four years ago.

    The widely held view is that interim directors are mainly called
    upon when the teacups start flying in the chief executive’s
    office. There is some truth in this. The increased pressure to
    deliver three stars in the performance ratings means the tenures of
    social services directors are becoming shorter.

    Steve Wild, interim director in Cumbria, is one of the most
    experienced in the role. Since becoming an interim in 2000 after
    four years as permanent director in Sefton, Merseyside, Wild has
    headed five social services departments. Because Sefton was on
    special measures when he joined, Wild has become a specialist in
    taking charge of struggling departments. But don’t call him a
    troubleshooter.

    “That’s far too aggressive a term,” he says.
    “It’s inevitable that, when I go in, people are fairly
    disenfranchised in what they are doing. But it is essential that
    you don’t say, ‘I’m going to do it this
    way’.  You need to use and recognise the skills around you,
    build on them, and people will respond.”

    Wild says it is also important to provide leadership on what needs
    to improve while allowing senior staff and social workers to get on
    with their jobs.

    He has never applied for interim posts – Cumbria approached
    him to improve its children’s services – and his 
    tenures  lasted between six and 16 months. Unlike many interims, he
    believes the role has to be full-time to stay on top of the
    constantly changing political agenda.

    Care consultant and former social services director Peter
    Smallridge says the key issue for an interim post is how many days
    you are expected to commit to it.

    “Everyone wants you to do five days a week,” he says,
    “but it’s difficult to find someone who’s free
    for that length of
    time. Everyone wants you to start tomorrow, but you shouldn’t
    be that free if you are any good.”

    Smallridge sees the role as “steadying the ship”, often
    during a period of transition, and providing a “health
    check” on the department. “Sometimes you need someone
    fresh who has not been tainted by running the department but who
    also has the experience,” he says.
    Former director Brian Parrott, who runs a health and social care
    consultancy, had a three-month stint as interim director at
    Cambridgeshire Council in 2003 while a new director was recruited.
    He says the interim’s qualities should include experience,
    lack of baggage in that authority, a particular issue they can
    champion and prompt availability.

    “It should be a straightforward agreement that begins and
    ends without complexities. It is about quickly building
    relationships with elected members and gaining their trust,”
    he adds.

    Mark Rawden, head of resources at Solace, says authorities are
    developing a “bespoke approach which helps them get more bang
    for their buck”. He says they are becoming more comfortable
    with the concept of employing interims as they recognise the
    importance of maintaining continuity and leadership. “There
    is also a better pool of interim directors  to choose from now, and
    clients say they are very happy with the results, flexibility and
    cost-effectiveness of the arrangements,” he says.

    Mike Leadbetter, who recently left an interim post at Ealing
    Council also believes chief executives have recognised they cannot
    afford to risk a loss of direction or morale in social services.
    “Before, it didn’t receive that attention,” he
    says.

    “Many three-star authorities have no hesitation in appointing
    an interim, but I don’t think any organisation should rely
    too heavily on them because you need people with longer-term
    commitment.”

    This is certainly the view of the Commission for Social Care
    Inspection. Although some believe it frowns on interim
    arrangements, its policy is to take each case on its own
    merit.

    Some experts estimate that at any one time at least 10 per cent of
    the 150-odd councils in England have interim directors, and most
    believe the number will increase to cope with the proposals of the
    Children Bill. And with separate directors for children’s and
    adults’ services on the cards by 2008, many are considering
    using an interim while they reshape departments.

    In Sutton, the previous social services director has been seconded
    to the primary care trust to oversee the integration of adult
    services with health. The council has also decided to develop a
    children’s trust.

    “You are going to see more interims while authorities decide
    whether to go down the same route,” says Davey.

    That can only be a good thing, says Leadbetter. “Sometimes
    directors can stay too long and suffer from the Alex Ferguson
    factor. A new coach can bring fresh ideas and
    approach.”

    Davey, and Spurs fans, will be hoping he’s right.
    CC

    ‘You come in with no baggage and an objective
    view’

    You do not need to look much further than Ian Davey to find an
    advocate for life as an interim. After spending 13 years as
    Rochdale’s social services director, Davey left in January
    and moved to France.

    “When I left, interim management wasn’t top of my list.
    But, having talked to other colleagues who said it was a rewarding
    career I began to consider it,” he says.

    The Sutton job came up in March after the existing director was
    seconded to the primary care trust to oversee the integration of
    adult care with health. The post offered Davey the opportunity to
    keep his hand in but still gave him flexibility – he works
    four days in Sutton and goes home to France for the rest of the
    week.

    The one-year contract will culminate in an inspection of the
    authority’s older people’s services in February, and so
    far Davey has found it a positive experience. “I have a
    timescale, deadline and brief to improve adult services. I’ve
    had the full support of everyone and I’ve found it a
    welcoming place.”

    Davey says other senior managers are dealing with developments in
    housing and other core areas, enabling him to focus on adult
    services.

    He believes one of the main advantages of being an interim is that
    “you come in with no baggage, an objective view, and more
    freedom to ask awkward questions”.

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