Appointment of Northumberland County Council's new CEO is confirmed

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A permanent replacement for Northumberland County Council’s controversial chief executive Daljit Lally has finally been approved by councillors.

A meeting of the full council voted to approve the appointment of Dr Helen Paterson on Wednesday after Mrs Lally left the council in July following a long-running dispute with leading councillors.

Dr Paterson, whose annual salary of £199,000 was described as “eye-wateringly high” by one councillor last week, is currently chief executive at Walsall Metropolitain Borough Council and will join Northumberland in the spring.

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She is no stranger to local government in the North East, having previously been executive director of children’s services in Sunderland for five years before becoming strategic director for transformation.

Dr Helen Paterson.Dr Helen Paterson.
Dr Helen Paterson.

Speaking at the meeting, council leader Glen Sanderson said: “I think you will all like our new chief executive. She will do a great job of bringing everybody together.”

Dr Paterson herself added: “Thank you councillors for this appointment. It is incredibly special to me.

“I am really looking forward to working alongside you.”

The appointment was recommended last month following an interview and selection process overseen by a cross-party group of councillors and senior officers.

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However, members of the independent group on the council were unhappy that they had not been included in the interview process. Coun Anne Dale, independent councillor for Stocksfield, called for an apology from the council for not including any members from the group.

Outgoing interim chief executive Rick O’Farrell said: “We all make mistakes sometimes Councillor Dale. I formally apologise to you for the mistake I made a few weeks ago when indicated that it was not appropriate for you to attend the interview panels.

“However, I would point out that in our discussion, we did not exclude the independent group from the selection process, and we did indicate to both yourself and the group leader Councillor (Derek) Kennedy that you could send one of the other members. Your group leader chose not to do so.

“But, I do formally apologise to you. I made that wrong call. It was a fast-moving environment.

“A deputy was not put forward other than yourself and I apologise.”

The vast majority of councillors voted to approve the appointment, with three members voting against. There was also one abstention.