Angie leaves government to take over County Hall
From Whitehall to County Hall might seem a curious step to take for a top civil servant like Angie Ridgwell.
Add to that a move to the frozen North – and to a council currently in an acute state of flux – and it is little wonder the appointment of Lancashire’s new interim chief executive has raised more than the odd eyebrow.
She is, she says, ‘under no illusions about the scale of the challenge ahead’.
But with millions still to find in economies, deafening calls for the Government to intervene in the running of one of England’s biggest shire authorities, and the small matter of the council leader currently on police bail, the challenge facing Ms Ridgwell is daunting, even for someone with her gleaming pedigree.
The scenario greeting Lancashire’s new first lady when she walks into her plush office in Preston on January 3 could possibly take her breath away.
Already her appointment has come under fire from the opposition Labour group at County Hall – and she doesn’t even start work for another two months.
The criticism is not about her suitability to do the job. Far from it. Her CV suggests she is eminently qualified to take charge of an authority like Lancashire.
She is currently director general of corporate services at the Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
And among an impressive list of previous roles is chief executive officer of a unitary authority in Essex.
The outcry concerns the manner in which she was appointed and the background to the vacancy that she is about to fill.
The outgoing chief executive of Lancashire County Council, Jo Turton, is being made redundant and others are leaving too in a controversial restructure of the authority’s senior management team.
Labour say it is all a Tory ‘witch hunt’ and a ‘personal vendetta’ because the officers are all ‘witnesses and whistleblowers’ in an ongoing financial investigation that has seen the leader, Coun Geoff Driver, and three other former LCC employees arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation. All four are currently on police bail pending further inquiries.
But the ruling Conservatives insist it is purely a shake-up aimed at saving the cash-strapped council a significant sum of money.
Rubbishing claims that the appointment of Ms Ridgwell came after only two candidates were interviewed for the crucial chief executive’s job, Coun Driver said: “We had an excellent field of candidates and it is testament to Angie’s considerable range of knowledge and experience that the committee felt able to appoint her.
“This is a crucial time for the county council, as we face an unprecedented financial challenge.
“Our restructure of senior management recognises that challenge and required us to find an exceptional candidate, someone who not only has highly developed skills as a visionary leader, but also has the necessary professional finance qualifications and experience of managing the finances of a major organisation.
“Angie fulfils both of those criteria and I’m confident that she can lead us through the implementation of the restructure and, more importantly, play a key role as we plan a positive course through the challenges we face to enable the county council to continue providing key services to the people of Lancashire.”
So who is Angie Ridgwell and what is it that makes her such a prize capture for the County Hall hotseat?
She has had her current executive post at the government department in Whitehall Square, Westminster, since July 2016.
Before taking on that role she had been director general for finance and corporate services at the Department for Energy and Climate Change for almost three years.
Prior to going into government, Ms Ridgwell held three interim senior positions with Bristol City Council in the space of a year.
She also held senior roles with North East Lincolnshire Council, Northamptonshire County Council and was CEO of Thurrock Council for a year.
Earlier in her career she was director of finance and ICT at Coventry City Council for five years, director of resources at Bridgenorth District Council and assistant treasurer at Taunton Deane Council.
She is also managing director of private consultancy firm, Angie Ridgwell Associates Ltd, specialising in financial management and transformation of public sector organisations.
By chance, her time at Thurrock may have served as valuable preparation for the difficulties she may face at Lancashire.
When she surprisingly quit her job there as chief executive in 2008 after just two years it was claimed by Labour that she was one of a number of senior officers which the Tory ruling group had secretly plotted to get rid of.
LCC say Ms Ridgwell will not be doing any media interiews until she starts the job in January.
But in a statement issued following the council meeting that ratified her appointment she said: “I am under no illusions about the scale of the challenge ahead and I am sure that the county council’s members and employees have the passion, commitment and expertise to rise to that challenge and continue to provide the services that the people of Lancashire value so much.”
Angie Ridgwell admits she is ‘under no illusions’ about the size of the job she is taking on when she starts as Lancashire’s new interim chief executive in the New Year.