St Helens Council leader says modernisation programme heading in right direction

St Helens Council leader David Baines says the council will be in a very different position than when he took over as leader
St Helens Council leader David Baines says the council will be in a very different position than when he took over as leader

The leader of St Helens Council said the authority will be in a “much stronger” position this coming May as its modernisation programme begins to take shape.


The modernisation programme – dubbed ‘One Council’ – was unveiled last July in response to a corporate peer challenge carried out by the Local Government Association (LGA).

The LGA was commissioned by the council to carry out the corporate peer challenge in 2018, with the aim of driving improvements across the organisation.

This was carried out in January and in March the LGA, which represents councils across England and Wales, undertook a second review that focused on the culture within the council.

The culture review revealed that a long period of consistency had given way to a period of “extreme political and considerable administrative volatility,” which gave rise to factionalism within the ruling Labour group.

In response to the two reports, the council developed two action plans.

Keith Ireland was also appointed interim assistant chief executive in April in an effort to bolster the council’s team of senior officers and to lead on the council’s modernisation plans.

Mr Ireland left the council in September, shortly after the sudden departure of chief executive Mike Palin.

Caroline Barlow, deputy director of finance and HR, was appointed as the interim programme director for the One Council agenda following their departure.

On Wednesday, cabinet was provided with a report highlighting all of the work carried out against the corporate peer challenge and culture review action plan to date.

Labour’s Kate Groucutt, cabinet member for corporate services, estates and communication, said many of the actions are being progressed through the One Council programme.

The majority of the 12 actions are ongoing while only one – the appointment of a new chief executive – has been completed. Kath O’Dwyer will leave the top job at Cheshire East Council to take over from temporary chief executive Harry Catherall in early spring.

“I think it’s clear progress and outcomes have been strong,” Coun Groucutt said. “Officers are working very hard to deliver progress across a huge number of areas across the council.

“But further work is ongoing in many of the areas. We are engaging with the LGA, keeping them updated of our progress and working with specialist advisors across a number of services.

“Many of the actions are being progressed through the One Council programme, which has eight work streams led by different officers from across the organisation.”

Coun Groucutt thanked officers and Ms Barlow for their work on the One Council work to date.

This was echoed by council leader David Baines, who said the council will be in a very different position than when he took over as leader.

“It’s clear from the report we’ve got in front of us and we see it day in, day out, but the report’s useful for the press and the public, to see the amount of work that has gone on since last May, in particular when I became leader and we became the cabinet.

“It’s a huge amount that’s changed, and all this good work has happened at a time it has to be said, of change for the council, with the new chief executive who’ll be starting shortly. Other new senior staff coming into place.

“I think when we come to next May we’ll be able to look back and say the council’s in a much better, much stronger, very different position to what it was when that corporate peer challenge and culture review was undertaken.”

Coun Groucutt proposed to bring further progress reports to cabinet and scrutiny panels in the coming months. Cabinet noted the report.