Cabinet considers top team shake-up at county hall

County councillor Geoff Driver
County councillor Geoff Driver

Lancashire County Council’s most senior officers could be ousted as the council’s cabinet prepares to consider three proposals for a restructure of the council’s top management team.

It has also been revealed the Tory run council will consider a £50m new cuts programme in September.

Lancashire County Council chief executive Jo Turton

Lancashire County Council chief executive Jo Turton

The cabinet is due to meet on Monday, just weeks after it failed in an earlier attempt to overthrow the current management set-up and replace Chief Executive Jo Turton’s role with a new post of Chief Executive and Director of Resources.

Opposition councillor are complaining the new proposals are being rushed through in peak holiday season with no time for debate or detailed consideration. But Council leader Coun Geoff Driver says they are necessary to tackle the council’s financial problems and manage services better.

It is the latest twist in a very public drama which just weeks ago saw Coun Driver instructing five senior officers, including the Chief Executive, not to attend briefings with him.

Cabinet members will be told their previous decision on July 13 to replace the £170,000 plus p.a. Chief Executive’s role and appoint three new Executive Directors was unlawful.

Coun Driver and his cabinet will bring back their original proposals for the radical shake-up and want to appoint an Interim Chief Executive and Director of Resources for a 12 month fixed term immediately. This time their proposals, which bring economic and financial scrutiny responsibilities for the top job holder, are accompanied by extensive advice and guidance from council officials and follow advice from legal counsel.

In turn the Chief Executive has also provided proposals in her role as Head of the Paid Service to retain a Chief Executive and create three executive directors with a different balance of responsibilities to those proposed by the cabinet. Her option stresses why a separate role of Chief Executive needs retaining, arguing: “For a local authority the size of Lancashire this is seen as a necessary pre-requisite to effective leadership and good governance.”

A third option is to review the council’s entire business and operating model.

Councillors will be asked to consider all three options, approve a proposed new senior management structure for consultation with affected staff and report back to cabinet in September.

County Coun Azhar Ali, leader of the Labour opposition group said: “Coun Driver is obviously trying to rush everything through ... his own members are calling him ‘Desperate Driver’. We’re not against a restructure. We want a restructure that’s constructive and benefits the authority in delivering services to the people of Lancashire...Now they are in real danger of pushing the authority into even deeper waters.”

He claimed the Conservatives were in danger of “creating more chaos and upheaval at a time when (the council) needs stability and looking at the real challenges.”

He also claimed that the council’s reputation was suffering with fears other agencies would choose to invest outside Lancashire.

Meanwhile County Coun David Whipp, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group, warned the council could be heading for “financial catastrophe” and said: “Clearly they are hell bent on bringing this in at the earliest possible time...they are pushing this through. It’s clear the proposals put forward by Coun Driver and his colleagues are going to cost the county council dear and rather than saving money will end up costing money.”

He said the council could potentially face financial claims from those currently in post.

Commenting on the Tory bid to combine a Chief Executive role with that of finance watchdog, he added: “These positions are properly kept apart and retain checks and balances. In a Chief Executive role you might be pushing for a particular course of action, a Section 151 officer is a more (with a small c) conservative, ensuring thing don’t expose the council to undue risk.”

Coun Driver replied: “It’s our opposition which is desperate. The proposals that the cabinet has put forward would actually save quarter of a million pounds and the Chief Executive’s proposals would save a little bit more than that.”

Noting last week’s cabinet meeting had shown children’s services overspent by £13m and adult services by £4m, he stressed: “We need to take drastic action to make sure the county council finances are put on a sustainable basis.”

The council leader said it was important to have financial expertise “right at the top” and the management structure needed changing to ensure proper management of all key services - it was wrong that services from education to children’s, adult and other services reported to one director.The 63 page report on the potential restructures reveals why the previous restructure decision, never went to the full council. It notes: “Advice has been obtained from Leading Counsel that Cabinet’s decision based on the information provided was unlawful.”

The new cabinet meeting comes just 11 days after a routine cabinet meeting on August 10 and as the council has been advised it faces future financial disaster, with its reserves forecast to be completely spent by 2019/20.

The new report reveals officers have drawn up a list of possible £113m cuts for consideration by the new Tory administration which took power following the May elections. Some £50m of those will now be brought to cabinet on September 14.

•A previous restructure which took effect from April 2015 saw 150 posts axed with £11.4m savings per year.

•Coun Driver is currently on bail facing allegations of perverting the course of justice and intimidating witnesses following a lengthy police investigation into the workings of the new defunct One Connect partnership between LCC and telecoms giant BT.

•Two Tory county councillors have dented the Conservative’s majority at county hall by resigning the Tory whip in the last few weeks - Coun Paul Greenall and Coun Tony Jones were both longstanding party members. The Tories now hold 44 of the council’s 84 seats.