By Grahame Anderson

Northumbria County Council’s Chief Executive Daljit Lally OBE has been placed on gardening leave following her accusations of alleged bias involving Council Leader Peter Jackson.

The decision taken last Sunday has plunged the Council into chaos and comes in the light of a series of leaked emails warning about possible bias due to a conflicting personal relationship Mr Jackson may have had. On top of this came worries over Advance Northumberland – part of the development arm of the Council formerly known as ARCH.

Investigation Frustrated

Concerns over the latter were made in a message to elected members on August 7, in which she cited her efforts to investigate the matter had been frustrated.

The well respected officer also a leading light at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust said she intended to contact Northumbria Police, intimating this was a failure to act in the best interests of the Council.

Asian Sunday has learned two cabinet members threatened to resign over the allegations.

Advance was given a re-brand in 2018 after allegations of poor management. It did however, put the focus back on Mr Jackson.

Investigation

Asian Sunday has learned an an investigation into ARCH revealed contractors had been given valuable deals to carry out public work. One was given both a house and car – the reason for this was unclear. The decision of ARCH to buy its own Chief Executives’ property for £395K , was referred to Northumbria Police, though no further action was taken.

On July 29, the council’s own audit committee opened up over concerns about “governance arrangements” at Advance Northumberland, declining to give the company a clean bill of health.

The report cited “weaknesses in Advance’s governance arrangements identified through a review of fundamental financial systems.” They confirmed reforms would need to be fully implemented in order for auditors to “have sufficient confidence” in the outfit.

A spokesperson for Northumberland County Council told Asian Sunday:: “We can confirm that the Chief Executive has commenced a period of extended leave.

“Interim leadership arrangements have been put in place.

“We can make no further comment at this time.”

Labour Anger

Labour’s opposition group angered by the decision have said in a statement: “Daljit is a well-respected officer, locally, regionally and nationally in local government and the NHS.

We are saddened to see that, hours after raising concerns with all members about activity within the council and subsidiary companies, she is then put on leave.

We have no faith in the political leadership of this Council after carrying out this act of silencing and urge them to rethink this course of action in the interests of the Northumberland residents.

In the middle of a global pandemic, Mrs Lally has been recognised and applauded locally, nationally and by all political parties for her handling. The last thing we need is a second wave and not having someone so experienced at the helm.”

A Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson told me: “We have been made aware of the situation. This is a Northumberland County Council matter and we therefore cannot comment on this position further.”

A spokesperson for Northumbria Police explained: “On Friday (August 7), we received an email from an official at Northumberland County Council in regard to Advance. However, as we are yet to speak to the individual about their correspondence, we are unable to add anything further.”

We have contacted Mr Jackson for comment.