New chief executive set to be appointed by St Helens Council

Kath O'Dwyer
Kath O'Dwyer

St Helens Council is set to appoint Kath O’Dwyer, the acting chief executive of Cheshire East Council, as its new chief executive.


Ms O’Dwyer was one of several candidates to be interviewed by St Helens Council’s appointments committee on Tuesday.

Following the interviews, the committee recommended Ms O’Dwyer for the role of permanent chief executive, which will pay up to £160,000.

Council staff were informed of the decision on Wednesday.

Ms O’Dwyer will take over from temporary chief executive Harry Catherall, subject to the decision being ratified at full council next week.

Council leader David Baines said the appointment is the first of several “important” changes to senior management team.

Coun Baines said: “This is an extremely exciting time for St Helens Council and, subject to ratification on Monday night, I’m looking forward to working with Kath to deliver on our priorities for the borough.

“This is the first of several new and important appointments we will be making in the next few months as part of a restructure of senior officers and I look forward to announcing more details in due course.”

The council began its search for a permanent chief executive in October following the shock departure of Mike Palin.

It is understood that Ms O’Dwyer, who lives in the borough, is seen as a strong candidate with decades of experience in local government.

She also has a notable track record of improving children’s services in several local authorities, an area that needs serious improvement in St Helens.

Before joining Cheshire East Council, Ms O’Dwyer was Ofsted’s national director for social care where she was tasked with overseeing the improvement of failing children’s services departments.

She also oversaw the development and introduction of new inspection frameworks for the watchdog.

Ms O’Dwyer has worked in several North West authorities including Warrington, Halton, Knowsley and Rochdale borough councils.

She also took on a senior role in children’s social care for Serco, based in Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

During her time at Warrington, Halton and Stoke-on-Trent councils, Ms O’Dwyer successfully led the authorities out of government intervention, delivering improved inspection outcomes for children’s services.

Ms O’Dwyer joined Cheshire East Council in 2015, initially as executive director of children’s services and deputy chief executive.

Her role was expanded the following year to oversee adult’s services, communities and public health.

In 2017 she was appointed as acting chief executive following the suspension of Mike Suarez, amid an investigation into his conduct.

Mr Suarez resigned from his post in July 2018 and Ms O’Dwyer has continued as acting chief executive ever since.

Last month Ms O’Dwyer was one of several candidates interviewed by Cheshire East Council’s staffing committee for the role of permanent chief executive.

Ms O’Dwyer was believed to be one of the frontrunners for the job although it is understood some members of the interview panel wanted to take the council in a new direction.

Cheshire East Council’s new chief executive is due to be ratified by the staffing committee next week, but Ms O’Dwyer appears to out of the running following her expected appointment by St Helens Council.

A St Helens Council spokesman said: “Kath O’Dwyer has been appointed as St Helens Council’s new chief executive, subject to ratification at a full council meeting on Monday.”