Councillors vote to axe Chief Executive Jo Turton’s job at Lancashire County Council

From left: Ian Young, Director of Governance, Finance and Public Services, Deputy council  leader Coun Albert Atkinson, council leader Coun Geoff Driver and Chief Executive Jo Turton at  the Lancashire County Council cabinet meeting August  21, 2017 when the ruling Conservative group voted for  a radical management restructure at the council.
From left: Ian Young, Director of Governance, Finance and Public Services, Deputy council leader Coun Albert Atkinson, council leader Coun Geoff Driver and Chief Executive Jo Turton at the Lancashire County Council cabinet meeting August 21, 2017 when the ruling Conservative group voted for a radical management restructure at the council.

Lancashire County Council’s cabinet members ignored the advice of their own Chief Executive Jo Turton yesterday and pushed ahead with plans to axe her job and those of other senior officers.

The cabinet met for a special session to consider three options for restructuring the council’s senior management team.

READ MORE: Background to key cabinet meeting After an hour of debate the ruling Tory group voted to merge the Chief Executive’s job with that of the council’s finance boss and financial watchdog, creating a new role of Chief Executive and Director of Resources.

It also intends to create three new Executive Director roles - one for Education and Children’s Services, one for Adult Services and Health and Wellbeing and one for Growth, Environment, Transportation and Community Services. The cabinet, chaired by Council leader County Coun Geoff Driver, voted to appoint an Interim Chief Executive and Director of Resources for up to 12 months.

But Labour group leader County Coun Azhar Ali opposed the proposals and predicted it could cost more than £1,000 a day to appoint an Interim chief. Afterwards he said: “We’ll be looking for ways to challenge this.”

Before councillors spoke on the issue Jo Turton, who had tabled an option in her role as Head of the Paid Service for a management restructure which retained a separate Chief Executive, told the cabinet that while opinion from legal counsel was that the Conservative’s option was deemed “likely to be lawful” any decision could also be “subject to legal challenge”.

She continued: “Now plainly I have a personal interest in this matter but the report is not about me but about the future of the county council.”

The council’s top officer argued combining a Chief Executive with a financial role “significantly reduces the checks and balances within the governance structure of the council”, said no other county council has done this and nor had large metropolitan authorities. Secondly she opposed the separation of children’s and adult services.

The decision will go out for consultation with staff affected and a report will go to cabinet for decision on Sept. 14.

Afterwards Liberal Democrat leader Coun David Whipp dubbed the decision “disgraceful costly and frankly bizarre” and said: “This needs reconsideration.”

After the meeting Coun Ali said: “What we’ve got now is more chaos and a shifting and shambolic administration which is ineffective which is shown by the damage it is doing to our reputation as a county.”

But Coun Albert Atkinson the deputy leader of the council said: “We’ve come up with what we think is the best option for Lancashire and the people of Lancashire. We’ve come up with a unanimous decision - it’s not just cabinet it’s our group.”

Later he issued a statement saying: “Today the new Conservative administration took an important step forward in delivering our promise to the people of Lancashire to create a more financially sustainable Council that will future proof our improvements to critical services to residents across the county.”

He added the restructure would “create a focus on financial sustainability and clear accountability for the delivery of first-class services.”