Unitary boss quits - who will replace him?
Rob Bridge will leave the understaffed North unitary authority soon and hospitals boss Simon Weldon is also going
By Sarah Ward
The boss of North Northamptonshire Council is leaving to go to a neighbouring authority, prompting calls for an outside appointment at the under-staffed authority.
The North unitary’s media office sent out a statement yesterday lunchtime saying that Rob Bridge, who was appointed back in 2020 by the shadow authority coordinating the move to a unitary system, will be leaving in June.
He will go to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA), the headquarters of which NN Journal understands is very close to where he lives. Despite working in North Northamptonshire for more than two and a half years he did not make a move to the area.
In a very short statement, he said he would be ‘moving on to another very challenging job’ and would always have ‘fond memories’ of North Northamptonshire.
The council’s leader Jason Smithers said in a statement:
“I am grateful to Rob for all his work since becoming the council’s first chief executive.
“Being the council’s first Chief Executive was always going to be a challenge, which Rob has grasped with enthusiasm and determination.
“I am pleased for Rob and wish him the best in his new challenge. He leaves the council in an excellent position to seek a new Chief Executive who can continue our journey of improving public services for our residents and businesses, who are the focus of everything that we do.”
In a separate email to councillors Cllr Smithers said the authority must now start to plan for the future and the process to appoint Bridge’s replacement would be agreed at this week’s full council.
Before the council began, in a February 2021 interview with NN Journal, Bridge said he wanted the council to be one that people were proud to work for. He said the authority would only succeed ‘if the culture was right’.
However since its inception on April 1 2021, the authority has had major staffing issues. It currently has several hundred vacancies, although despite repeated questions from councillors, the exact picture is unclear. A number of experienced staff from the borough councils that closed down to make way for the new unitary, left the replacement authority.
Many roles are now filled by agency staff, although the authority will not disclose how much it is spending with recruitment agencies.
According to published financial data looked at by NN Journal, a number of its senior officers are being employed through the London based executive management consultancy Tile Hill.
During Bridge’s tenure there have also been controversies. Just months into the council starting, it was faced with a high court legal battle, with former publican Geoff Monks successfully suing the council for several millions for actions committed by the former East Northamptonshire Council.
The authority has also faced issues with the introduction of the green bin waste charges and the latest debacle is the Wellingborough Walks issue, in which a campaign group is now set to take legal action regarding the felling of trees close to Wellingborough embankment.
In the statement about his departure the authority’s communications team pointed to the set up of the new authority, helping councillors to define a vision and delivering a balanced budget as his successes.
Bridge has been silent in the majority of public meetings he has attended over the years, sitting quietly at the top table next to the Cllr Smithers.
NN Journal has asked for an interview with Rob Bridge on a number of occasions over the past two years without success.