Questions over council chief executive's new role spark critical response

Northumberland County Councils leader Peter Jackson and chief executive Daljit Lally.
Northumberland County Councils leader Peter Jackson and chief executive Daljit Lally.

A Northumberland county councillor has raised concerns about a new role for the authority’s chief executive and how it could impact on her main job.

But his input was criticised by the council leader, who described it as ‘misleading and unprofessional for a councillor to bring into question the motivations of our hard-working staff’.

Coun Steven Bridgett, who represents the Rothbury ward.

Coun Steven Bridgett, who represents the Rothbury ward.

Daljit Lally, whose work on integrating health and social care saw her awarded an OBE in 2016 for services to the community, has a formal joint role as chief executive of Northumberland County Council and executive director of system leadership and community at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. As at July 2018, her salary band was £185,000-£189,999.

It was recently announced that Mrs Lally has been appointed to the advisory board of Healthcare UK, a joint initiative between government departments to help healthcare providers do more business overseas by promoting the UK’s sector and supporting new partnerships.

She described the appointment as an honour, saying: “The work they and the embassies do to support the NHS and others to export is invaluable – it helps us to prioritise, manage risk and secure contracts, benefiting the customers and us all back here in the UK.”

But the announcement sparked Coun Steven Bridgett, ward member for Rothbury, into writing to the leader of the council, Peter Jackson, to ask a series of questions, as he was ‘particularly concerned as to the impact this additional role might have on our chief executive’s ability to properly carry out her role at the council’.

“I certainly don’t think we are in a position where we can afford to have our chief executive away from her role frequently or for periods of time,” he added, also asking about any conflicts of interest with her NHS role and whether her salary would be reduced if the role took up any council hours.

He also asked why the announcement had subsequently been removed from the council’s Facebook page and website.

In a statement, Coun Jackson responded: “The appointment of our chief executive to the advisory board of Healthcare UK is a matter of pride and importance to the council. The make-up of the board is set by ministers from the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Health and Social Care, and therefore it is of national and strategic importance.

“The primary responsibilities of Healthcare UK are to assist the NHS to grow by supporting innovation, stimulating growth and delivering the highest-quality patient care to communities locally. Membership on the board can therefore only enhance Northumberland’s role in the development of high-quality NHS and local-government health and social-care services.

“This role will require infrequent attendance at meetings which is manageable within Mrs Lally’s working and personal time, and will not impact on the day-to-day operations of the council. There is categorically no conflict of interest, it is entirely relevant, and the position is not remunerated.

“It is both misleading and unprofessional for a councillor to bring into question the motivations of our hard-working staff, who so often go above and beyond their normal hours to serve the residents of our county, particularly when his own record of attendance is so consistently poor.”

Coun Bridgett hit back, saying: “Having just spent the weekend doing two, 4am start, 10-hour shifts with one of our local gritter drivers, to ensure my residents had the most up-to-date information so that they could travel safely on the roads, I won’t be taking any lectures from someone who has councillors within his own group that don’t even live in the areas that they are supposed to be representing.

“Two weeks on and I have still not heard anything from Coun Jackson, so I look forward to receiving a written response to my letter, which answers the questions I have raised, rather than the current dodge, deflect and delete policy that seems to be in operation.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service