I HAVE to say that three months ago I had no idea that I would be back to writing this column. Neither would I have expected to be back as leader of the county council. Naturally, I came back at a time of considerable turmoil (of which you will not need reminding). The first imperative was to start to settle down as an organisation and get on with the good work that our staff do as a matter of routine. I have been trying to get everyone to put the turmoil behind us and concentrate on looking ahead. I am pleased to report that this is now happening across the council. The second major objective was to appoint a specific acting chief executive to fill the post that had been vacant since June. Ever since I have been connected with the council, the official view on compensating for absence was that any problem that arises should be dealt with by the best qualified (or the most easily available) deputy. I had never gone along with this idea and had always insisted that one individual was given the responsibility for deputising. I need, I insisted, one person to deal with and to hold responsible - not a committee. Who was it first said that a committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but collectively can decide that nothing can be done? Once that was in train, we decided that we needed to negotiate with the successful candidate, Mark Lloyd, who had been unanimously recommended by the appointments committee to become chief executive. Although he had withdrawn his application, I felt that a bit of corporate grovelling might persuade him to reconsider. The more research I did into this candidate, the more convinced I was that he was the man we needed. I therefore travelled up north, bought him a slap-up lunch and persuaded him to reconsider. He has now accepted the post and his appointment has been ratified (unanimously again) by the appointments committee and the full council. He will start in April. Perhaps I should qualify the phrase 'slap-up lunch'. The Government's spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, responsible for seeing that Government departments do not indulge in profligate spending of public money, got a bit of a rough ride in last weekend's papers when it emerged that they had spent what seemed like quite a lot of money entertaining people to lunch. They took their opposite numbers from the Croatian Audit Office to Petrus, the Gordon Ramsay restaurant, and spent \u00A3160 per head on a meal. The first word that came to my mind was one with which the chef concerned is very familiar! Let me just say that my 'slap-up' lunch cost about \u00A330 per head and is the first restaurant bill I have ever submitted to the council.