Lancashire County Council chief executive quits

Lancashire County Council chief executive Phil Halsall has quit.
Lancashire County Council chief executive Phil Halsall has quit.
7
Have your say

The chief executive of Lancashire County Council has quit his role following a disciplinary investigation – but will not receive a golden handshake.

Phil Halsall was suspended in August over allegations BT was shown favouritism when bidding for a £5m contract to run the authority’s fleet services.

Yesterday the county council confirmed his employment had been “terminated by mutual consent”.

County Hall chiefs said they were unable to comment further on what conclusions they had reached, if any, during the two and a half month investigation.

However, the Evening Post understands Mr Halsall has left the authority without a payoff and will instead receive his statutory three months notice pay and no enhancement to his existing pension.

The chief executive, who picked up £238,774 last year including pension payments on top of his £195,000 salary, said: “The decision to leave has not been an easy one.

“I want to take the opportunity to say how much I have enjoyed my time in Lancashire.”

Sources close to Mr Halsall said the disciplinary investigation had finished, with him effectively retiring from his position.

Friends said he remained adamant he had done nothing wrong and had been prepared to “fight to the bitter end” to clear his name.

When Mr Halsall left his £180,000-a-year post as finance director of Liverpool City Council in 2008, he walked away with an extra five years’ enhancement on his pension package - worth around £420,000 - and a lump sum of £80,000. He joined Lancashire County Council in 2009 as executive director of resources and took up the role of chief executive in 2011.

The controversial deal for BT to run the council’s fleet maintenance and repair services was agreed by the authority’s former Conservative administration in April.

The details have never been made public as the council said that it contained “exempt” commercial information. The contract was awarded to BT and One Connect Ltd (OCL), a partnership between BT and the council, of which Mr Halsall was a director.

However, the decision was called in by the current Labour and Liberal Democrat administration and put on hold while the council’s in-house provider continued to provide the services. An independent review of the process was carried out by lawyers from DAC Beachcroft.

The international legal firm’s report, which has not been made public, went as far as to suggest that Mr Halsall could be investigated for misconduct in public office, although he was not accused of this crime.

The report went on to question whether BT and OCL knew they were being favoured and questioned the role of County Councillor Geoff Driver, the council’s former Tory leader, who is also an OCL board member.

The contract was revoked on August 15 with immediate effect by the current Labour leader of the council, Jennifer Mein.

Jo Turton will be continuing as the county council’s interim chief executive until the administration begins discussions about making a permanent appointment.

Coun Mein said: “I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr Halsall the best of luck for the future.”

Coun Driver is still thought to be pursuing legal action over any suggested wrongdoing on his behalf, which he has repeatedly denied.

He has previously demanded answers over the council’s decision to scour his business emails without his knowledge as part of the probe.

Coun Driver said: “This is a sad day for Lancashire. The real reason for Phil Halsall leaving is that County Councillor Mein does not want a real chief executive, she wants a puppet.”

Coun Mein dismissed her rival’s criticism. She said: “Coun Driver shouldn’t speculate about things he appears to know nothing about.

“He has already been asked to respect the confidentiality of this situation and it is unfortunate that he has chosen to ignore this in favour of attempting to discredit the Labour administration.

“It’s clear that he is completely incapable of being objective.”