'I'm worried he was pushed': Union leader speculates on timing of Northamptonshire chief's departure

Unison secretary Penny Smith, left, believes the outgoing chief executive of Northamptonshire County Council could have been 'pushed'.
Unison secretary Penny Smith, left, believes the outgoing chief executive of Northamptonshire County Council could have been 'pushed'.

The shock departure of Northamptonshire County Council’s chief executive weeks after revealing the authority was on the brink of financial collapse has sparked concern over the timing.

Dr Paul Blantern announced he was due to leave the cash-strapped authority in a circular email to staff on Monday, stating it was time for him to “take on new challenges”.

The outgoing chief, who has served at the helm since 2007, will leave the office in little more than a week’s time on Friday, October 13.

A spokeswoman for the council told the Chron Dr Blantern’s departure was a “voluntary agreement” between him and the council leader, Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Oundle).

But the secretary of the county’s Unison branch, Penny Smith, said the timing of him leaving – midway through Dr Blantern’s own plans to split the council into a set of mutual trusts and days after announcing all staff would need to take enforced leave (see below) – was “concerning”.

“I’m worried he was pushed,” she said. “It is a very quick notice period. He started the plans for a federated model where everything is out-sourced – or ‘rightsourced’ as they were saying.

“But to not see it through is very strange. He should have stayed the course.”

Mr Blantern has declined to give an exit interview at this stage.

Mrs Smith believes the plan to re-shape the council in the form of mutual trusts was “too idealistic” and remains a concern to many staff.

Dr Blantern, on the other hand, said the ongoing transformation “put Northamptonshire at the forefront of local government practice”.

In the email sent to staff this week, Dr Blantern wrote: “Last week, I met with the leader of the council, Councillor Heather Smith, and we agreed together that having overseen the move to our new headquarters building, completed the recruitment and design of our new management team and transformed the operating model of the council, now would be an appropriate time for me to leave the organisation to take on new challenges.

"I am excited as I embark on the next stage of my own career.”