County council leaders gagged over chief executive’s departure

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Council leaders have been gagged from speaking any further about the departure of outgoing Chief Executive Keith Ireland, it has been revealed.

Labour Councillor Rob Parker asked Conservative Lincolnshire County Council leader Martin Hill on Friday for more information on what had happened.

However, Mr Hill said: “I’d love to expand, however, all members of the committee have been given very strict instructions by the legal team not to discuss the matter in any form.”

He said the appointments committee, of which Mr Parker is a member, did meet when the news was first announced and told this.

“I’m not at liberty to say anymore,” he added. “Nor are you.”

Later in the meeting it was agreed that Debbie Barnes would take on the role of Head of Paid Service however, the council will temporarily run without a chief executive, to be reviewed in the new year.

A newly hired commercial director and director of resources and a to-be hired director of place will also shortly begin in their roles.

Questions still surround Mr Ireland’s departure after he became the third chief executive to fall out of favour with county council leaders since 1998.

It is unclear whether Mr Ireland was fired, or if he voluntarily stepped down after just four months in the job.

Keith Ireland only joined the authority in July from his previous role as managing director at City of Wolverhampton Council.

When Mr Ireland was announced in May, his position came with a £170,000 salary. Previous CEO Tony McArdle retired after more than 12 years in the role.

He was praised for his experience in local government and specialises in using private sector business models to transform the performance of local government services.

He inherited a council with a number of issues, including a Serco contract beset by problems, a potential black-hole of £180 million in funding in three years’ time and preparations for Brexit.

In his time in the seat Mr Ireland has previously spoken about how devolved powers could bring decision-making closer to local people, and declared that his “neck is on the line” over the extension of the Serco contract.

Daniel Jaines , Local Democracy Reporting Service