COMMENT: Why Northampton Borough Council's Â£135k-a-year chief executive had to go
The chief executive of Northampton Borough Council who was roundly criticised over his handling of theÂ Â£10.2 million Sixfields loan Â has handed in his notice. But with mounting pressure on all fronts, he had to.
David Kennedy, who was last reported to be on a £135,000-a-year wage at the authority, sent an email to staff at the Guildhall stating his intention to step down on Tuesday.
The circular, leaked to the Chronicle & Echo, read that he was “very proud to have worked for Northampton Borough Council and to lead such an incredibly talented and committed team in Northampton”.
But many will argue the cheery goodbye from the chief executive belied the fact he has been living on borrowed time at the council for months.
Cast your mind back to November 2016 and the publication of the Pricewaterhouse cooper’s damning report into the council’s Sixfields dealings.
Among a catalogue of failings, it found the authority’s cabinet were asked to approve a loan of up to £12 million weeks before independent legal advice was sought from experts; checks on the progress of the stadium involved little more than a drive past in a car and officers were pressured to rush through paperwork for the loan.
The rest is history. The stadium renovation the money was meant to pay for never happened, the money went missing.
A fortnight ago, it was revealed the council had spent £950,000 trying to recover the money it had loaned through legal means.
To this date, the pricey litigation has yielded nothing.
Many felt Mr Kennedy, as the architect of the deal, would have to fall on his sword on the release of the PwC report.
But he didn’t. Instead, on a cold night in November the borough boss told an audit committee meeting that he was sorry.
“I would like to apologise unreservedly on behalf of myself and all the officers involved,” he said. “We seek to set high standards for ourselves and other offices.
“It is with deep regret I see the extent to which we didn’t meet those standards.”
Mr Kennedy, it seemed, had rode the storm and even won the support of council leader Councillor Jonathan Nunn.
“No one feels the need to put things right a much as I do and he does,” Councillor Nunn told the Chron in late 2016.
But the criticism of the way he oversaw the Sixfields loan stretched much further than the flimsy terms of the agreement he helped to draw up.
Just two weeks before the loan was agreed in 2013, Mr Kennedy had attended the wedding of then Cobblers director David Jackson, prompting questions over whether he should have declared this as an interest in drawing up that cabinet report. Property developer and estate agent owner
Mr Jackson said the chief executive was “more of an acquaintance” who lived in the same village.
But it prompted the council to set up a special committee to review whether Mr Kennedy broke council rules by not declaring his proximity to the estate agent owner.
A fortnight ago, the pressure mounted further. It was reported Mr Kennedy had also been interviewed under caution by police as part of the Sixfields loan investigation. There is no suggestion that this was a view to pressing any charges, but formed part of the overall investigation.
One thing was becoming abundantly clear among Guildhall sources, however. Mr Kennedy, the overseer of multi-million developments from Abington Street to the North Gate bus station was becoming a distraction.
As one opposition leader told the Chron, he had to go. Indeed, perhaps it is a wonder the chief executive carried on for so long.
OPPOSITION LEADER: BOROUGH CHIEF WAS CARRYING TOO MUCH BAGGAGE
The outgoing chief executive of Northampton Borough Council oversaw a great period of change in Northampton - but he was carrying too much baggage, an opposition leader has argued.
Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Sally Beardsworth (Kingsthorpe) said: “He has been with us for 10 years now and I think it was time for a change.
“I think it does get rid of some of the baggage that David Kennedy was carrying around with him, particularly the Sixfields loan. “I think it has been working towards this for a while. He didn’t seem to have the same enthusiasm he did at the beginning.
Comments from the other council leaders were less forthcoming.
Council leader of the Conservative administration Councilor Jonathan Nunn, said it would be “inappropriate” for him to comment.
A similar response was received from Labour group leader Councillor Danielle Stone.
When Mr Kennedy took over as chief executive in 2007, he had wandered into a council branded as the worst in the country.
Before he moved to Northampton, had also worked at Barnsley Council, as the authority’s deputy chief executive. He has been described as a ‘big hitter’ who was responsible for attracting 400 million of investment into Barnsley.
But, despite his efforts in taking Northampton off the foot of the councils league table, a spokesman for the authority confirmed the outgoing boss would not be receiving a golden goodbye.
“Mr Kennedy’s resignation is not the subject of any termination payment, pension enhancement or settlement agreement,” he said.