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‘Unsung hero’ Mike Cooke to retire as Camden Council chief executive

Search begins to fill £160k-a-year vacancy

08 October, 2018 — By Richard Osley

CAMDEN Council has begun the search for a new £163,000-a-year chief executive after the Town Hall’s most senior council officer announced that he is to retire.

Mike Cooke has given six months’ notice, which he said was a realistic period for a local authority like Camden to find a successor.

The 60-year-old took over from Dame Moira Gibb seven years ago, having been promoted from within her team of chief officers.

He said: “This has been a hard decision, not least because I remain as passionate about Camden as when I started in the role and I continue to value working with Camden’s amazing residents, partners, members and outstanding colleagues. “However, I will have been in post for seven years very soon, which in my view is a long tenure.”

Councillors of all political stripes were quick to praise the way he had managed the organisation over years which have seen significant up­heaval.

These have included evacuation of the Chalcots estate, attempts to protect Camden from the dramatic impact of the HS2 rail project and dealing with the largest financial cuts to local government in the council’s history. While there was some private discussion behind the scenes about whether his consciously understated approach had given council leaders too much of a free hand, there was praise for his calm voice during tense times.

Current council leader Georgia Gould described him as “the ultimate public servant”, adding: “Mike Cooke is one of the most forward-thinking leaders in local government. Never someone to chase the limelight, he has, in his patient, understated way, led Camden through a period of unprecedented challenge and helped to ensure our values are stronger than ever.”

Despite straitened bud­gets and difficult decisions ahead, Mr Cooke’s retirement opens a vacancy for one of the most sought-after jobs in local government: the chief executive of a high-profile, inner London borough with a rich history. Camden will have no shortage of applications, but is also likely to deploy employment head­­hunters to help the search.

The minimum salary is £163,350 a year; newly-appointed chief officers usually start at the bottom of a target range which can rise to £199,650.

Chief officers can also secure an “annual variable performance” bonus each year of up to 10 per cent of their salary based on performance. When critics query local authority pay, the remuneration package is often compared to the larger amounts chief executives can collect in the private sector.

Oliver Cooper, leader of the Conservatives, praised Mr Cooke as an “excellent corporate leader with a steady hand and a clear passion for Camden” while former Lib Dem councillor Andrew Marshall said he had been “very balanced, thoughtful and drove real change”. Theo Blackwell, a former council finance chief now working as tech guru to London Mayor Sadiq Khan, meanwhile tweeted that Mr Cooke was a “down-to-earth and unsung hero, well liked by staff at all levels”.


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