Captain Cooke’s farewell party

I THINK the rule is: What happens at the chief exec’s leaving do, stays at the chief exec’s leaving do, so I must not speculate on the insider jokes shared in nearly an hour of warm speeches at Mike Cooke’s farewell party at the new Greenwood Centre on Wednesday evening.

It would be a shame, however, not to note for the record the sharp and engaging repartee contained in the speeches of hospital chief exec David Sloman (as an irrelevant aside I recently learned he was nicknamed ‘Frosty’ by some staff at the Royal Free, not for any other reason than a childish soundalike link between his surname and the Christmas song Frosty The Snowman… people, eh) and Camden’s Borough Solicitor Andrew Maughan.

Mr Sloman had a call and response riff in which he asked the audience to shout out words which they thought captured Mr Cooke’s qualities beginning with the letters that spelt out his name. It was delivered with a whiff of a feeling that Mr Sloman wouldn’t do too badly – and wouldn’t mind – compering one night a week at The Comedy Store if his schedule allowed.

Mr Maughan, meanwhile, stole the show performing as a sort of Best Man, armed with a gentle roast of a speech for his departing friend and colleague. For those not up to speed with who’s who at Camden, he’s pictured with Mr Cooke above. It’s always interesting to see how the officers we see sitting on the sidelines in council meetings seem to be able to make more confident speeches than some of the local politicians elected to inspire us.

“Mike was an internal appointment, which of course we have achieved again, which is brilliant. Hold on, tick, ‘grovel to new one’,” said Mr Maughan, smiling at Mr Cooke’s successor Jenny Rowlands, who officially starts work on Monday and is pictured with Mr Cooke above.

“He [Mike] very quickly established himself as the most senior officer in the council. He made the key decisions and he set the key officer strategy. Given to a significant extent he had been doing this for years, this was quite an easy transition,” added Mr Maughan. “But he could now do it openly… He’s nodding at that.”

Mr Cooke himself surprised some of his now former colleagues by delivering his own epic leaving speech, complete with a slick powerpoint presentation. Each senior officer and close colleague was thanked with a tip for the future; Nash Ali was cheered for being the council leader who appointed seven years ago.

Mr Cooke described the incoming Ms Rowlands as a “remarkable woman”, before affectionately adding: “My final piece of advice to you Jenny is get yourself a pair of trainers, because of a whole number of reasons: One, you’ll do a lot of walking around the borough, two when you speak truth to power they come in handy, and thirdly all the planning and reflection and thinking you’re going to be doing I can just imagine you jogging on Brighton promenade.”

She commutes from Hove, but gets a much earlier train than me.

He hinted what we all already knew, that he has “irons in the fire” for his retirement, a non-executive role in the health field beckons and you get the impression that people who know him well think he has more to offer public service before a full retirement. Whenever I write about the council and its chief executive position, it’s not long before somebody comments on pay packets. Everyone will have an opinion, but I did interview Mr Cooke on his exit this week and I’m not sure everybody is aware he volunteered to be £70,000 a year less than his predecessor.

From watching Camden Council, it has felt that the leader Georgia Gould and Mike Cooke have enjoyed working with each other in recent years, hot-desking around 5PS which in itself creates a new atmosphere.

One more little clip, and remember these were all said amid the atmosphere of a leaving do, not a council meeting but may be a good hint of their relationship: Cllr Gould, on stage at the party this week, recalled the risky decision to screen World Cup football on Jumbotron screens in Russell Square (pictured below) and Talacre Gardens last summer. There were fears that if the England result went the wrong way then boozy trouble might ensue. One screen did get cracked by a flying bottle in Russell Square, but the Talacre event was definitely seen as success at least.

“There was the time that Mike went on holiday for two weeks. I was left in charge, and at the time England were doing very well in the football and I decided that we needed to put up some massive screens so the community could watch the football together,” she said.

“Everybody was a bit nervous about it ‘what was going to happen’ and I was thinking about Mike in the back of mind. I literally felt that my parents had gone away, and I was having a house party, and I really hope my mates don’t trash the place. I asked him when he came back did you know that we did that and he had a wry smile and said ‘yeah, I know I saw’. But he didn’t intervene. He trusted us. That’s absolutely the mark of Mike. He gives people advice and then trusts them to step up.”

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