Troubled Council set to appoint interim chief executive

A routine scan through the meetings, agendas and minutes section of the Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council website has fuelled speculation about more changes at the top of its paid officer ranks.

The impending departure of the present chief executive, Dr Carloyn Wilkins, was broken exclusively on this website last month (read here). It is understood that this coming week will see the formal end of her twelve year term in Oldham. She has been on gardening leave since 19th July, 2021.

A well placed source says that an interim chief executive is to be appointed, subject to the approval of Full Council on a date yet to be announced. Under the constitution, a full 7 days notice will be required after the Appointments Committee meeting to convene such a meeting. 25th August has been mooted as a possible date for a special meeting that would consider just that one item.

It is not known if the present Deputy Chief Executive, Helen Lockwood, who has stood in for Dr Wilkins during her absence, is under consideration for the post. She was very recently cleared of any alleged wrongdoing by Lancashire Police, following the closing of their long-running investigation of the notorious ‘Empty Homes Scandal‘ in Rossendale, another development reported exclusively on this website (read here).

A more likely scenario, to informed observers, is a fresh face to bring stability following a traumatic few months at the Council. The former Leader, Sean Fielding, dramatically lost his seat at the May elections, following a gruesome campaign in Failsworth West (read here); the chief executive is all but gone and there has been much speculation over the future of catastrophe-prone Director of Strategy and Communications, Rebekah Sutcliffe (read more here).

One notorious local political commentator, based in neighbouring Tameside but routinely claiming to speak on behalf of ‘Oldham townsfolk’, prematurely announced her departure, and reported that she had been sent home, based on ‘a very reliable source ‘within the council’. The disgraced Raja Miah claimed Miss Sutcliffe was being forced out by political leaders over fears she was leaking Council information to her former colleagues at Greater Manchester Police.

As ever, Miah’s claims were high on hyperbole, skinny on evidence. But with the main intention to continue the smear campaign against the Labour Group in Oldham with lurid tales of gangsters roaming the civic centre corridors, Asian cartels and murder threats. 

The official Council line is that Rebekah’s ’employment status is unchanged’.

In a now-familiar about turn, five days later Miah then decided that Miss Sutcliffe had bravely seen off the attempt to remove her by mythical evil forces and she was now ‘the most powerful woman in Oldham’. The new interim chief executive may, of course, have something to say about that.

It is worth noting that he has made similar ludicrous, uninformed guesses over the departure of Dr Wilkins. He is presently on police bail over suspicions of racially aggravated public order and malicious communications offences.

The press are excluded from the Appointments Committee meeting tomorrow. A surprising move in the circumstances. The Council has been asked to provide a copy of the public interest test carried out in support of that decision. That request was immediately forwarded to the Monitoring Officer (and Borough Solicitor), Paul Entwistle, by the Constitutional Services department.

Given the slack practices and law breaking that has been uncovered recently, by way of journalistic investigations into the top paid ranks of OMBC, it is likely that such a test was not applied, making the exclusion unlawful. 

Membership of the Appointments Committee comprises Councillors Chadderton, Chauhan, Shah (all Labour), Sheldon (Conservative) and Sykes (Lib Dem) according to the Agenda. Which varies from the list published on the Council’s website.

UPDATE: 

There is a now a formal dispute between the Council and journalist Neil Wilby over exclusion of the press from the meeting. The requested public interest test was not supplied by the Borough Solicitor and there is a now a legal argument that the meeting could be rendered unlawful. More to follow on that.

A well placed source has named Harry Catherall as the man offered the role as interim chief executive, subject to confirmation by the full Council. Mr Catherall has an enviable track record in turning around troubled councils. Most recently at Knowsley Council in St Helens, Merseyside (full story here).

Page last updated at 1545hrs on Tuesday 17th August, 2021.

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

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Photo credit: Oldham Council

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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