Only one person has applied to be the chief executive of Lancashire County Council - and it is the woman who has been doing the job on a temporary basis for almost a year.
The authority’s employment committee will meet on Tuesday to decide whether Angie Ridgwell should now be formally interviewed for the £200,000-per-year post.
But the absence of external applicants has been blasted by the Labour opposition, which has walked away from its role in the appointments process in protest. The group’s members will not take part in the cross-party committee’s discussions on the subject.
Labour has called for a rethink of a controversial management shake-up which led to the top job becoming vacant.
However, the leader of the Conservative-run authority, Geoff Driver, has dismissed the demand as an “irresponsible and entirely pointless gesture” and defended the changes he made as “absolutely vital”.
Deputy leader of the Labour group, John Fillis, said: “We really need to hold back on this. This is a £200,000 job, with extras on top, yet only one person has applied from the whole of the country. What does that say about the reputation of this council?
“We’re talking about some of the top professionals in the country, [but] they look at Lancashire as a failing council, a council in chaos and they won’t touch it with a big stick.”
Last year’s restructure of the authority’s most senior staff, saw the role of chief executive merged with the head of finance, a post known as the section 151 officer. Angie Ridgwell took up the job on an interim basis for 12 months in January.
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Labour has claimed that the council’s own consultants - who assisted with the recruitment process - have called for the two top jobs to be separated.
But County Cllr Driver said they had done “no such thing”. “They have simply stated the obvious that if you combine the [requirement for] two qualifications, you inevitably narrow the field,” he added.
Responding to Labour’s move, County Cllr Driver admitted the structure at county hall was “not common” amongst other councils, but claimed it was the only way of getting the authority out of the “serious financial mess” which it was in when the Conservatives retook control in May 2017.
“We had the senior finance officer in the fourth tier of management and it was obvious to us that the role needed to be elevated to the very top of the authority in order for the council’s finances to be sorted out,” County Cllr Driver said.
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He also cited a recent OFSTED report into county hall’s children’s services department which noted an “effective corporate management structure”.
And County Cllr Driver condemned Labour for pulling out of the process to decide what should happen next.
“They are assuming the employment committee are going to make a particular decision,” he said.
County Cllr Fillis said Labour’s response was not a criticism of the current post-holder.
“We don’t blame Angie Ridgwell for applying for the [permanent] job, [but] she has got them over a barrel - she can virtually ask for what she wants and they’ll have to give it, because there is no-one else.”
Ms Ridgwell was previously chief executive of Thurrock Council and had a spell in Whitehall before arriving in Lancashire at the start of the year.