Somerset County Council has ended months of uncertainty by announcing that chief executive Sheila Wheeler is leaving her job “by mutual agreement.”
Her deputy Patrick Flaherty will step in to her job on an acting basis, bringing to an end a power vacuum that has been condemned by Labour. Last week, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Somerton and Frome, David Oakensen, said the county was a like a ship drifting rudderless in the storm.
Sheila Wheeler was last seen in County Hall in November last year. At first, the county council put her absence down to sickness. But that explanation was abandoned in a statement today.
The council said: “Sheila Wheeler has left the council by mutual agreement. Her arrival at the council in February 2010 coincided with the first austerity measures coming into force, resulting in major budget cuts. She led the council through a prolonged period where significant service and staffing reductions had to be made. She also brought in major changes to the way the council operates and is run. We wish her well for the future.”
‘an acrimonious process’
She will get a severance payment of three months’ pay – about £40,000. That’s on top of a similar sum she received while off work on full pay.
The warm words in the council’s statement are in stark contrast with what seems to have been an acrimonious process. It is understood that an independent QC was brought in to rule on complaints which lie behind Ms Wheeler’s departure.
Her departure comes just four years after the previous chief executive was forced out by the ruling Tories. Labour says this sorry state of affairs shows that Tory rule in Somerset is chaotic and disfuctional.
Tories push through £6 million pounds in spending cuts
News of Ms Wheeler’s departure came as the Tory leadership pushed through £6 million pounds in spending cuts.
Bridgwater Labour councillor Leigh Redman said: “It is with frustration I must report that the county council ruling party pushed through their cuts proposal. It sees cuts in youth services, children’s centres, sheltered housing, learning disability provision and a 15 per cent increase in subsidised bus fares, hitting the most vulnerable members of our community.”