New council chief brings history of budget cuts

Kerr is currently chief executive of Cornwall County Council. Picture: Contributed

Kerr is currently chief executive of Cornwall County Council. Picture: Contributed

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THE man named as Edinburgh City Council’s new chief executive has overseen major cost-cutting drives including “unprecedented” spending cuts in his current job as top official in Cornwall.

Andrew Kerr, 56, was chosen by a panel of senior councillors, to replace Dame Sue Bruce, who retires in October after five years in the post.

The panel picked Mr Kerr by four votes to three over internal candidate Alastair Maclean, the city council’s director of corporate governance since 2011 and effectively deputy chief executive.

It is understood Mr Kerr’s experience in overseeing “change” and cost-cutting was one of the key reasons he got the job. Edinburgh has to save a massive £67 million by 2018 thanks to funding cuts.

But the Falkirk-born former athlete, who has a 32-year career in the public sector, has been a controversial figure. He hit the headlines in 2011 when he became the first chief executive to be paid off by his council to save money. He received a redundancy payment of nearly £145,000 from Wiltshire Council after less than two years in the £183,000-a-year top role.

And he has been embroiled in a row in his current job as chief executive of Cornwall Council after he called for the resignation of a Lib Dem councillor accused of having indecent images on his computer, even though a police investigation resulted in no charges being brought. Critics said Mr Kerr had overstepped his authority as an unelected official and compared his actions to a civil servant demanding an MP should quit.

The appointment panel split along party lines over the choice for the chief executive post, expected to carry a salary of around £160,000.

Council leader Andrew Burns, fellow Labour councillor Maureen Child, Lib Dem group leader Paul Edie and Green leader Steve Burgess are understood to have voted for Mr Kerr, while the SNP’s Sandy Howat and Alasdair Rankin and Tory Cameron Rose backed Mr Maclean.

Mr Kerr – who started his career managing Grangemouth Sports Complex and still has a Scots accent – also met a group of key figures from business, education and other sectors in the Capital before being chosen. He is said to have come across as “calm and authoritative” and having “gravitas”.

Cllr Burns said: “Andrew brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm at a time when we face many unprecedented challenges and opportunities. I am confident his energy and drive will play a central role in shaping the continued success of Edinburgh.”

Mr Kerr is credited with “turning around” the finances of North Tyneside Council while chief executive there.

Last year, Cornwall Council published plans for saving £196m over the next four years, with spending cuts and “innovations”, including restructuring and the transfer of staff to “new models of delivery” and arm’s length companies; devolving services, such as libraries, to community and voluntary groups; creating trusts and partnerships to deliver services such as culture and tourism; and seeking external partners for services such as parking.

The plans also included delivering more services digitally; sharing buildings with partners and community groups; and increasing income with a “more commercial approach” in areas like public protection, licensing, planning and waste.

More than 250 redundancies – voluntary and compulsory – have been announced. Council funding is to be withdrawn from public toilets in Cornwall, with some of them handed over to parish councils and others set to be included in a large-scale tender, called Your Convenience, which seeks to attract bids from other sources to help secure the future of the loos.

And last month the council said it could not guarantee the future of its leisure centres after entering into talks with private firms about a sell-off to save £5m-a-year running costs.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com