The communities secretary should not have intervened in the departure of Kensington & Chelsea RBC’s head of paid service, senior sector figures have told LGC.
Nicholas Holgate announced his resignation on Wednesday night, a week on from the devastating fire that ripped through Grenfell Tower. Mr Holgate said he did not want to step down but communities secretary Sajid Javid had required council leader Nick Paget-Brown (Con) to seek his resignation. Mr Javid has not confirmed or denied the claim.
Cllr Paget-Brown said it was with “great regret” that he had accepted Mr Holgate’s resignation. His own offer to resign is reported to have been rejected by Conservative council colleagues earlier this week.
Tracey Lee, acting chair of the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives, told LGC the case raised “worrying points of principle”.
“We would be very critical of inappropriate interference by central government,” she said. “There are due processes that need to be followed and our expectation is that councils do follow those procedures.”
She said the Baby P case, where former Haringey LBC director of children’s services Sharon Shoesmith was summarily dismissed in 2011 by then education secretary Ed Balls, demonstrated why it was always appropriate to follow due process. Ms Shoesmith went on to win her case for unfair dismissal.
Kensington & Chelsea has faced widespread criticism for its response to the fire which has claimed at least 79 lives. Hundreds more have been left homeless.
Mark Rogers, whose own departure from Birmingham City Council earlier this year was reported to have followed pressure from central government, told LGC the borough’s political and managerial leadership should have taken it upon themselves to resign.
Mr Rogers, past president of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, said: “In the face of a catastrophic event Kensington & Chelsea didn’t step up to the mark in the way its community expected; they have lost the confidence [of residents].
“The council shouldn’t have had to wait for the secretary of state or other external forces to intervene - they should have addressed the issue themselves.”
Earlier today it was announced Lewisham LBC chief executive Barry Quirk will step into the head of paid service role at Kensington & Chelsea on an interim basis. He is one of a number of London council chief executives and officers who have been providing support to Kensington & Chelsea since gold command procedures were implemented a week ago.
One senior local government source said: “It’s unfortunate the secretary of state has intervened but the outcome is not unexpected. It’s heartening that local government is sorting its own house out though with an experienced well respected CEO going in.”