NEWCASTLE City Council’s first female chief executive is set to be appointed this week. Council leaders will reveal the name of the successful applicant at a meeting tomorrow.
The council held interviews last week, with an all-woman shortlist of four candidates.
The Journal understands former One North East assistant chief executive Pat Ritchie is the front- runner for the post, with the successful candidate taking over in the new year.
The latest appointment comes after former chief executive Barry Rowland was forced from the post after a report critical of officer practices.
Since taking over Newcastle Council last year Labour leader Nick Forbes has made sweeping changes to senior management.
Helping Mr Forbes make that move was an independent peer review report by the Local Government Association earlier this year which found friction between the Labour administration and the council’s most senior officers, and revealed how many of the city’s best-paid public officials were seemingly unwilling to follow new instructions.
With Mr Rowland’s departure last August the council set about hiring a new chief executive while at the same timing preparing a drastic round of budget cuts worth £90m.
With 1,300 job losses announced and three years of spending reductions the new chief may have avoided the difficult decisions but will be expected to take charge of a redundancy programme amid warnings of industrial action from unions.
The appointment of a female candidate means an end to Ewen Weir’s temporary role in the top job. It also means Newcastle finally addresses a long running complaint that it is male dominated in its career structure.
When the new boss takes over she will still lead a largely male senior staff, but will work alongside a councillor cabinet the majority of which is female.
Gateshead’s Jane Robinson is the only female council chief executive on Tyneside and Newcastle has previously been criticised for not having enough women in senior roles.
Ms Ritchie was said to be one of the most impressive of those interviewed and brings with her an impressive CV. She has played a role in many of England’s multi-million pound city deals and her current role makes her one of the UK’s most influential civil servants.
She is currently chief executive of the nationwide Homes and Communities Agency, responsible for selling off Government land and helping councils build more new homes.
She took up the role after a stint as head of the agency’s North East branch.
Ms Ritchie played a leading role in developing plans for Byker, where an agency-led Task Force has paved the way for development of a Community Trust, which could bring up to £48m of investment into the iconic Newcastle estate.
While the quango is one of few to survive a Government cull in 2020, there continues to be rumours the Government would rather abolish or reform the agency.
Many of those applying for the Newcastle job will have to take a pay cut. Mr Forbes said he will be introducing a pay cut of about 10%, with the new chief executive offered a salary of around £150,000.
Homes and Communities’ Agency documents show Ms Ritchie’s chief executive salary is currently in the £180,000 to £185,000 banding, including pension contribution.
The next chief executive will take over from Mr Weir, who qualified as a social worker in 1985 and went on to work for councils in Sunderland, Darlington and Durham.
He has previously said it is unlikely that he would put his name forward for the full-time job.
Newcastle Council said it would not be commenting on or confirming any of the candidates for the post until members had been informed of the decision.
Papers confirming the new appointment will be posted out to members tonight ahead of a full council meeting on December 5.