EXCLUSIVE: Leaked email from leader reveals senior manager shake-up at County Hall after critical report...and concern over criticism from Tory colleagues

Leader of Northamptonshire County Council, Councillor Heather Smith
Leader of Northamptonshire County Council, Councillor Heather Smith

A leaked email from the leader of Northamptonshire County Council has revealed a critical report of the authority's handling of its finances led to changes to the senior management team at County Hall.

The email, sent by the leader of the county council Heather Smith, and shown to this newspaper, came after details of a previously unpublished independent peer review was highly critical of some officers and councillors in their handling of its financial situation.

Former chief executive of Northamptonshire County Council, Dr Paul Blantern

Former chief executive of Northamptonshire County Council, Dr Paul Blantern

The review, Councillor Smith stated in her email, contained advice to the Conservative administration and "as a result, changes to the senior management team were made".

The leaked email was sent following concerns raised by Northampton North MP Michael Ellis over the findings of the peer review and that the Conservative administration of the county council "did not have his full support" following proposals to save £9.6m, hitting the county's library service, Trading Standards, bus subsidies and highways maintenance.

Councillor Smith is also highly critical of Mr Ellis, and for speaking to the press without talking to her first.

In the email, Councillor Smith gave details of the background to the peer review and explained why the findings had not been made public.

MP for Northampton North, Michael Ellis

MP for Northampton North, Michael Ellis

"It seems the reports were not published. I want to be open and transparent.

"The review that took place in early September contained advice to us all and, as a result, changes to the senior management team were made. Our new interim Chief Exec and Commercial Director are in place and on Monday Cllr Malcolm Longley's role changed from assistant cabinet member to part-time cabinet member to give him executive responsibilities for Commercial developments. He will work closely with the new Director," the email read.

The chief executive of Northamptonshire County Council, Dr Paul Blantern, left the authority earlier this month. In a statement released at the time of his resignation, Dr Blantern said the decision was taken in agreement "together" with Councillor Smith following the opening of the new headquarters and changes to how the council operated.

In a new statement tonight, Councillor Smith maintained Dr Blantern's departure was not linked to the peer review.

The email also contained a copy of a letter from Councillor Smith to all Northamptonshire MPs urging them not to speak to the Press about concerns over the proposed cutbacks being made by the county council without speaking to her first, a clear reference to Mr Ellis's comments.

The letter stated: "It would be helpful if, in the future, you come to either me or one of my cabinet members to discuss concerns before talking to the Press, I am sure you are all aware that there is nothing the press like more than a blue-on-blue attack.

"Perceived political infighting can make these stories explode even further and I do not wish to be issuing clarifications or rebuttals each time we disagree," Councillor Smith said, explaining why she had declined to make a statement after Mr Ellis's comments.

Councillor Smith also raised concerns about the impact this could have on the Conservative party's campaign for the Northampton Borough Council elections in 2019 and revealed why announcements over potential cutbacks had been timed two years before voters went to the polls.

"If the County election results in May for Northampton North were replicated, then the Borough will face a fight to hold the Conservative control in 2019.

"We were impacted by the Borough £10million loan situation and we were doing our best to keep our budget changes away from 2019, which is why some of the potential changes have been announced now," Councillor Smith's letter stated.

The letter said there had been an agreement that MPs would "co-ordinate and link with the county council so that we understand your information requirements but also that we are clear on key messages".

After this newspaper contacted the county council following the leak of the email and letter, Councillor Smith released the following statement:

“My letter to the county MPs was not to stifle debate on the provision of services in Northamptonshire but to reiterate that we have an open-door policy here at the county council and feel it would have been more beneficial to voice any concerns with me directly.

“I of course value the role the press have in reporting on politics and local government in the county but my point was to show that while it is only right the press is informed of any criticism of the administration, it should not be done at the exclusion of myself.

“I have invited the MPs to join my management team and me for a meeting to discuss our current funding situation and the specific consultations which have just started to see how we can work together for what is best for the people of Northamptonshire.

“As stated before Paul Blantern’s departure from the county council was a mutual agreement between him and the authority.

“The changes to the structure referred to in the email, following the peer review were the appointment of a new commercial director and a part-time cabinet member for commercial developments as well as an interim chief executive following Dr Blantern’s departure.”

Mr Ellis said he never commented on leaks, adding "the only thing I care about is my vulnerable constituents and the essential services that the county council provides".