Fringe Box



Meet the New Joint CEO Part 3: “Nobody Should Operate in the Shadows”

Published on: 9 Apr, 2024
Updated on: 12 Apr, 2024

Pedro Wrobel

The new joint chief executive officer for Guildford & Waverley Councils, Pedro Wrobel, has taken up his post at a particularly challenging time, especially for Guildford, where financial management problems have now been added to ongoing Local Plan issues.

Martin Giles meets the new CEO with other local journalists and reports…

See also Part 1: Meet the New Joint CEO: ‘I’m Here To Make Guildford and Waverley Brilliant Places’

and Part 2: ‘My Maxim Will Be: No Surprises’

Government-council and council-council relationships

The conversation had moved on to the relationship between the central and local government.

The new CEO drew on his experience: “Having sat in central government and local government, I would say that local government does absolutely vital things that central government will be terrible at, so it is absolutely the case that local government must remain and must be allowed to continue to do some of the brilliant work that lots of my colleagues do across the country.”

And about the pros and cons of unitary authorities? “I don’t really have a view about kind of unitaries versus county or borough councils. The critical thing is that however local government is organised, what matters is collaboration.

“London, for example, is a bunch of unitaries, the London boroughs, but it always struck me as pretty crazy that some of those are tiny, relatively speaking, so you can’t really get anything done. You can’t think about London as a city unless everyone is organised and brought together.

“So you know, for me, we need to think of Surrey as an entity, so all the boroughs need to come together and be collaborative in the way that we address things.

“All the best ideas are stolen, right? I will shamelessly steal all the best ideas that I can find around the country. That’s why it’s such a joy having Guildford and Waverley because we can use each other’s ideas. It’s important that we can collaborate, we join up and we optimise what we deliver on behalf of our residents.”

Back to the Housing Revenue Account investigation

One of my reporter colleagues brings the conversation back to the potential fraud investigation, asking Pedro how he could reassure residents that the issue was just a “one off”? “It appeared to have been quite a long-term ‘one-off'”, she added.  How could residents feel reassured about the future of the council and the future of those departments and the service to the council tenants especially?

The answer is direct: “What we want to do is make sure that we understand every element of what has gone wrong, that we can account for every penny and make sure that we deal with it. And my focus is on drawing a line under this as quickly as possible.

“What I mean by that is we’ve launched a set of investigations. We are supporting a police investigation, so we will work with the police to make sure that they have what they need from us to draw that to as swift a conclusion as they can. Internal investigations have been launched and are proceeding apace and we want to deal with those and bring all of that to a conclusion.  We take this seriously. And everything that has gone wrong, we will learn from it and we will put it right.”

Nolan Principles

I wanted to hear, given recent and past criticism of GBC, what the new CEO thinks about the often-quoted Nolan Principles for those in public life.  What would he do to ensure the council complies with them?

He responded:  “I think it’s critical that everybody in public life is here for the right reasons. And understands how to behave. I haven’t seen anything from that behavioural perspective, outside of existing investigations, that concerns me, but that’s not to say that that doesn’t exist.

“I think it’s really important as a local authority that we abide by the known principles of public life. I know it’s a hypothetical but if somebody was to be found in breach, I think that’s something I’d take very seriously.”

I pursued the point, asking, “But it’s not like a criminal act or even necessarily a councillor code breach, it’s just the general way of behaving, isn’t it?”

Pedro’s response was quick: “No, I know that. But I think my view would be if we were to perceive that somebody wasn’t working for the public good, didn’t have integrity at the heart of their decision-making, I think there are private conversations that can be had to address that. Not that you’re suggesting this but ‘kicking off’ and being very public about it is not is not usually the best option.”

To focus more tightly I gave a specific example of one of the principles, “accountability”: Did he think councillors should make themselves available for press interviews?

The response was predictable: “I think that’s a question for councillors. I think people want to make their own decisions.”

I had one more go: “Okay, but some of these are lead councillors speaking on behalf of the council, not just their party.”

He responded: “I think it’s important that councils are open and transparent in the way that we kind of behave. Today is a good example of that.”

“But accountability is one of the principles.”

“And as I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons I like local government is because I think accountability is much better placed than it is in central government, where central government and ministers or ex-ministers are accountable, even if they know what the issue was.

“Here, I think accountability, sits with members and with officers, and I think that’s, that’s a much healthier place. And personally, that desire for accountability is one of the reasons I’m in local government, and it’s also why I think it’s so important to have a relationship with you guys.”

“So, within reason, you will make yourself available?”

“Yes, of course, I see that as the point of today.”

Press relations

He adds: “I’ve come to you with not much of an agenda, that’s obviously clear by now, but the point about that is that it’s about the principle; I want to get to know you. I want you to know what I found, because probably, in a couple of months, I’m going to be wanting to talk to you about my improvement plan. I will hark back to this conversation and say, do you remember I mentioned the improvement plan, here’s my plan. And here’s the point of it, and here’s the genesis of it.”

“So how important do you think press scrutiny is for local democracy and for local councils?”

“Very. Nobody should operate in the shadows. I think that’s unhealthy.”

“So you welcome that scrutiny?”

“Very much.”

Wodehouse Place

(see: Long Awaited Repairs to GBC Housing Not Expected for Another Six to Nine Months)

Asked if he had heard that the residents at Wodehouse Place had invited him to look at their accommodation and the unfinished safety work, and whether he’d accepted the invitation, he said he had just been informed of the invitation and would be delighted to go adding, “As a general principle we ought to look at all of our places.”

Wodehouse Place

It had been a refreshingly frank exchange over 90 minutes, contrasting sharply with the defensive mental fencing some politicians engage in with the apparent aim of conceding and revealing the minimum possible.

One could not help but hope that Pedro’s aspirations to make Guildford and Waverley “brilliant places” can be, even if it is partially, realised. But there are, sadly, many challenges already facing him and doubtless more will come. As Macmillan famously said all political life is at the whim of “events, dear boy, events”.

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Responses to Meet the New Joint CEO Part 3: “Nobody Should Operate in the Shadows”

  1. Richard Benson Reply

    April 9, 2024 at 1:21 pm

    Great questions from The Dragon led to a great interview. I fear the “anti-bodies” in Guildford and Waverley Councils will soon come out in full force to make life very difficult for Pedro. Very good luck to him.

  2. Hyde Peter Reply

    April 9, 2024 at 3:09 pm

    I would have asked him if he thought it would be a good idea to merge Guildford and Waverley Councils. And how does he resolve potential conflict between the needs of the two councils?

    Editor’s response: this was covered in Part 2. Please click here.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 10, 2024 at 5:19 am

    I don’t think I have ever read so much and learned so little. Just a bunch of platitudes and fence sitting. It is clear that the leadership under the lib Dems and previously the Tories have failed to live up to the Nolan Principles. His failure to hold councillors to account over openness and press scrutiny shows us the way forward at GBC, the status quo.

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