Elizabeth Raikes stepping down as budget is to be cut by £10m
AS Torbay Council faces up to some of the worst cutbacks in history, its former chief executive says more change in the way it is run is inevitable.
The budget of Torbay Council is expected to be cut by more than a quarter over the next four years and needs to find up to £10million in savings and increased income from next year's budget having already cut £9million this year amid outcries about the impact on adults services.
The departure of Elizabeth Raikes is the latest result of a series of senior management shakeups since she joined seven years ago. She has taken voluntary redundancy.
Mrs Raikes was appointed before the mayoral system went live, before schools left council control to be 'independent' as academies and before the recession forced swinging cutbacks.
But she believes change is essential, and things will have to change again to meet the new circumstances.
The council is today leaner, more efficient and more customer aware, she says. "It is by no means perfect. We are a small council that has and does embrace new ideas and change. I would say that is the biggest difference.
"I'm a bit of a change-junkie anyway but I am now working with more colleagues who are open to changing the way we do things because we have to, I would say we are change-ready.
"It's not something that you do and then stop. We will need to keep changing to respond to the challenges we are facing at the minute.
She said the financial crisis facing councils was the worst she had known in her 12-year career as a chief executive in local government.
As well as being chief executive of the National Council for Education and Training in Wales, she was previously chief executive of Monmouthshire County Council and assistant chief executive of Taunton Deane Borough Council.
Mrs Raikes said: "It's as bad as I have known. I have never known a double whammy of decreased resources and increased demand.
"Whereas private businesses would like more demand as it means more income, we would like more demand where it means more revenue, but most of our demand is actually what costs us money to provide."
She said her frustration was that the council did not change things fast, or deep enough.
" But I am sure under Caroline Taylor there will be more change, and possibly changes in a slightly different direction."
She said one of the current trends in local government is commissioning services from outside bodies. Torbay started early, with for example the Tor2 contract.
"I think now that as a model commissioning has had its day and we need something else.
"We did commissioning well and saved a lot of money and had some big successes like our recycling rate. But I think we will be looking more at what I call an enterprise model, with much more locally focused solutions to deliver political ambitions.
"We already have a lot of different ways of operating, we have the companies that we own like the TDA and the ERTC, and we work with social enterprises, with private/public community groups.
"I see much more, smaller enterprises run by a mixture of public/private and community.
"I would like to see them helping our small and medium enterprises to grow in the Bay."
She said the companies might be able to generate their own income by operating more flexibly operating in a more commercial way.
In future, she believes, the council would be focusing on providing services for the vulnerable in society.
Councils have to provide certain services by law but Mrs Raikes said there were no rules on how those services were provided, compared with services they had to provide to meet legal obligations such as environmental health.
"We would be hard pushed to provide all the statutory services to the level which we do now.
"I think it's about what we as communities can do to help ourselves more.
"We have got some really strong communities in the Bay and communities pulling together. We have to explore how we can help those communities to do more."
During her tenure, Torbay switched to an elected mayoral system with first Nick Bye and then Gordon Oliver taking the reins. Did she feel it had been good or bad for the Bay?
"It's difficult to say, as we don't know how it would have been like without it.
"I am quite a fan of the mayoral system, I think firstly more people know the person accountable, and that person is in office for a set period of time. Otherwise I would probably have had to work with six different council leaders, and I don't think that leads to continuity or real longer-term thinking.
"I'm sure a lot of people wont agree with me, but I think Torbay has been lucky to have two very different mayors, who worked in very different ways but who are each very talented individuals who most importantly are Torbay born and bred and absolutely passionate about the area.
"However, they both have been focussed on trying to bring more prosperity to the Bay.
"For example, with the South Devon Link Road, Nick Bye really got it put back on the Government map and won the support regionally and Gordon sealed the deal."
She said she didn't believe in modern chief executives having the high profile roles of town clerks and chief executives of old.
"I have always had a quiet style of management, sometimes because you don't get your picture in the paper all the time people think you are not doing anything. But you need someone to be able to manage an organisation which has more than 700 activities and employs a large number of people. That's been a huge part of my focus.
"My proudest moment came when I went on the English Riviera wheel with a senior official of the local government group, who had worked in Teignbridge until 2004, and after hearing the commentary about all that's been happening in Torbay in the past few years he said Torbay looked so much better than when he left. Someone who's been away noticed the difference. Sometimes when you live in a place you only notice the bad things."
She said her worst time was when children's services was put in Government intervention because it was failing.
"Although we knew we had problems and were working on sorting out those problems, we weren't doing it fast enough. That will always be my biggest regret.
"I would have liked to have stayed to see it come out of intervention as all the signs are that it is now motoring and things are happening much, much quicker."
She said the 'icing on the cake' for her time in Torbay was the signing of the deal for the Oldway restoration and redevelopment.
"To me that's absolutely tremendous because it has been such a waste of such a beautiful building.
"I really hope I will be able to continue to contribute to the cultural, arts and heritage aspects of the Bay as archaeology and history are my background and I really love it."
She said her new role as non-exec directorship at Plymouth Hospitals NHS trust would entail four days a month and she planned to take a holiday and then continue writing. She has written a book on her favourite holiday destination of Corsica but has yet to find a publisher.