Oldham scoop as leading public service ‘troubleshooter’ set to hold fort

As exclusively revealed on this website yesterday (read more here), Oldham Council is set to appoint a new chief executive at a special meeting of Full Council next week.

Following a meeting of the Council’s Appointments Committee held yesterday (Tuesday 18th August), Harry Catherall, former Chief Executive of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, was unanimously recommended to councillors for appointment as Interim Chief Executive.

Harry has enjoyed a 40-year career in local government – starting as a 16-year-old apprentice and rising to Chief Executive at one of the best performing local authorities in the country. A trained accountant, he has undertaken a wide range of roles including leading high-performing children and adults social care services. He has an impressive track record of delivery, including overseeing large-scale public service improvement programmes in a number of organisations.

Council Leader Arooj Shah said; “It’s great to be able to recommend Harry for the appointment and I look forward to welcoming him to the team. I have been clear that what Oldham Council needed in a Chief Executive is someone with drive, determination and a real commitment to delivering great public services for local people.  I have set a clear future direction and set of priorities for the role and it’s obvious from the recruitment process, to date, that Harry is the right person to deliver that vision. His focus in his new role will be to forge stronger relationships between local people and their public services – and to steer Oldham’s recovery from the impact of the COVID pandemic including, crucially, driving forward the regeneration and renewal of our town and district centres.”

Councillor Howard Sykes, Leader of the Opposition – Liberal Democrats said; “Following today’s recruitment process I am happy to recommend Harry as the borough’s Interim Chief Executive.  He clearly demonstrated that he has the skills and experience needed to drive real improvement to the vital services that Oldham people value and rely on.  I look forward to working with him.”

Harry Catherall said; “I’m delighted to be recommended to Oldham’s councillors as the new Chief Executive. Should I be formally appointed, I look forward to working with the wider council team to meet the priorities clearly set by the Council’s Leadership. Oldham has an ambitious and positive vision for its future and I am keen to play my part in making the town’s plans a reality”

Harry is best known for his time at Blackburn with Darwen Council where he held a number of senior roles over a twenty-year service including more than seven years as Chief Executive.

During his time at Blackburn, Harry transformed the council, trimming spending by 40% to meet reductions in funding from central government, whilst continuing to deliver great local services. In addition, he drove forward an ambitious regeneration programme for the borough. This work saw Blackburn named Local Authority of the year during his time as Chief Executive.

Most recently, Harry led St Helen’s Council as chief executive, on an interim basis, during 2019/20. During this time he oversaw the creation of a new council-wide delivery plan, with clear priorities and a balanced budget for the town, whilst also driving improvements in Children’s Services and progressing significant regeneration activity to boost inward investment and create local jobs.

Harry is also currently an Associate Non-Executive Director at the East Lancashire Hospital Trust, a role from which he will be stepping down to concentrate on his new position in Oldham.

The single-issue meeting of Full Council to appoint to the interim position will take place at 6pm on Wednesday 25th August, 2021.

Subject to approval, Harry is expected to take up the post from the following day.

The departure of Harry’s predecessor, Dr Carolyn Wilkins, was broken exclusively on this website on 26th July, 2021 (read more here). A number of other exclusives have been broken since then as more troubles within the council surfaced and the network of sources and whistleblowers continue to grow. Read more here and here.

COMMENT: This is a top class appointment and a genuine scoop for new Leader of the Council, Cllr Shah, her Cabinet and the other Party Leaders who have supported her. Harry Catherall will bring a sharp eye for detail, a commitment to good practice – and high ethical and professional standards that appears lacking in the Oldham Council senior ranks at present.

Harry’s impending arrival just makes the most enormous common sense, viewed through this journalist’s lens at least. The Council needs to return to being Member-led, with committed and enthusiastic paid officers focused on supporting them and fighting hard for the recovery the town so desperately craves.

One barrier to such progress is a problem that has been described as a bigger blight on the town than COVID. The infiltration, and infection with divisive, hate-filled narrative, of almost all of the town’s social media community forums by a disgraced Tameside-based political activist, Raja Miah, and a group of malcontents around him who term themselves, appositely, as The Rabble. Harry Catherall needs to take swift, decisive action at Manchester Civil Justice Centre to restrain this group, from harassing and defaming both his paid officers and Members, and begin to rebuild the town’s reputation, smeared locally, regionally and nationally for the last two years or more by lurid, but evidence-free tales of elaborate police and council ‘cover-ups’, gangsters and mobsters (the terms interchange) roaming the streets unchecked, vigilante groups, Asian cartels, vote rigging, corrupt land deals and murder plots by senior politicians and journalists. 

The attacks on Mr Catherall himself, by Miah and his mob, started minutes after this article was published.

Page last updated at 0705hrs on Wednesday 18th 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.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

Photo credit: The Shuttle

© 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.

5 thoughts on “Oldham scoop as leading public service ‘troubleshooter’ set to hold fort

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