Northumberland County Council chief executive 'on extended leave' after making serious allegations against leader

Council leader Peter Jackson and chief executive Daljit Lally.Council leader Peter Jackson and chief executive Daljit Lally.
Council leader Peter Jackson and chief executive Daljit Lally.
Northumberland County Council’s chief executive is on ‘a period of extended leave’, with one of her last actions being to level serious allegations at the council leader

The announcement of Daljit Lally’s absence followed her emailing all 67 county councillors to flag up her ‘significant whistle-blowing concerns’, with particular reference made to the Conservative leader, Cllr Peter Jackson.

A group of Labour and independent members has called for an extraordinary meeting of the full council, ‘which will give the leader the opportunity to explain the current situation and will allow members of this authority to ask appropriate questions, which is their democratic right to do so’.

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The request to the business chairman, Cllr Richard Dodd, adds: ‘The only way to open dialogue and restore some faith in the ability of this council’s political leadership is to hold a full council meeting and give them the opportunity to explain themselves.’

The email chain, which has been seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), shows that Mrs Lally contacted all of the cabinet members on the morning of Friday, August 7, to inform them that ‘due to failed attempts to arrange a meeting with the cabinet member responsible for governance, that following a meeting with the external auditor, I have no option to follow advice and put in place some referrals, investigations and measures to protect the council’.

She refers to the council leader and ‘the issue of possible bias due to a possible conflicted personal relationship that he may have’, as well as ‘significant concerns about Advance and a failure to act in the best interests of the council’.

‘I would also advise you that I will be contacting Northumbria Police in relation to some of matters,’ she added, before saying: ‘I have no option but to advise you of these issues as the member for governance has not responded to me about meeting and as you as a cabinet are collectively responsible for strategic oversight and governance.’

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Later that day, Mrs Lally forwarded this email onto all councillors ‘as I have always stated to you that my responsibility lies with the interests of all 67 of our wards and ward members’.

Cllr Jackson and Cllr Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, who has responsibility for governance, both told the LDRS that they cannot comment at this time.

The Northumberland Labour group has issued a statement, describing Mrs Lally, who was awarded an OBE in 2016 and is also executive director of system leadership and community at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust as part of a formal joint role, as ‘a well-respected officer, locally, regionally and nationally in local government and the NHS’.

It adds: “We are saddened to see that hours after raising concerns with all members about activity within the council and subsidiary companies she is then suspended.

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“We have no faith in the political leadership of this council after carrying out this act of silencing and urge them to rethink this course of action in the interests of the Northumberland residents.

“In the middle of a global pandemic, Mrs Lally has been recognised and applauded locally, nationally and by all political parties for her handling. The last thing we need is a second wave and not having someone so experienced at the helm.”

Mrs Lally told the LDRS that she had no comment to make, while the council’s official statement is simply that it ‘can confirm that the chief executive has commenced a period of extended leave’.

“Interim leadership arrangements have been put in place. We can make no further comment at this time.”

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Advance Northumberland’s managing director, Ken Dunbar, said: “Advance Northumberland works closely with Northumberland County Council at all levels, delivering projects to make Northumberland an even better place in which to live, visit, and do business.

“We have seen the press reports and were surprised to see a reference to significant concerns at Advance Northumberland. We operate with a board and an audit committee, which is made up of council-appointed and independent directors with significant expertise and experience. In addition, the council’s internal audit team has ongoing, unfettered access to the company.

“As a well-run organisation, we believe there is no cause for ‘significant concerns’ within Advance Northumberland. However, we will, of course, thoroughly investigate if any significant allegations are brought to our attention.

“Any other matters pertaining to HR matters within the council are something we would not wish to comment on.”

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A Northumbria Police spokeswoman said: “On Friday (August 7), we received an email from an official at Northumberland County Council in regard to Advance. However, as we are yet to speak to the individual about their correspondence, we are unable to add anything further.”

Advance Northumberland was specifically set up to replace its predecessor Arch, following concerns around governance and spending, including serious allegations of wrongdoing, under the previous Labour administration.

The early part of the current Conservative tenure was characterised by revelations about previous issues such as lavish spending on hospitality – including £58-a-bottle wine on trips to property events in Cannes, the awarding of contracts to firms involving the family members of politicians and staff, and generous remuneration for certain consultants.

Northumbria Police were involved but later concluded that ‘no criminal offences have been identified’.

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Advance was therefore supposed to be a fresh start, but a report to the latest meeting of the council’s audit committee, on Wednesday, July 29, stated that ‘a review noted weaknesses in Advance’s governance arrangements’ and that consideration is being given to the committee taking over responsibility from Advance’s own audit committee.

Advance is a council-owned economic regeneration company, set up to “improve prosperity, quality of life and increase business activity throughout the communities of Northumberland”.It helps support and fund new and developing businesses, aims to move forward brownfield sites, builds manufacturing and offices units, delivers town centre redevelopments, and works on affordable housing as part of its remit.

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