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County Council Leader Geoff Driver's bail extended to November


Geoff Driver
Geoff Driver
Chris Satori

The Leader of Lancashire County Council, Conservative Councillor Geoff Driver, has had his bail extended for a further 3 months, until November 22. Lancashire police are investigating allegations of conspiring to pervert the course of justice and intimidating witnesses.

Driver was one of four men arrested in May as part of a police probe into allegations of fraud at Lancashire Council, during his previous time as Leader of the Council. The other three are former County Hall chief executive Phil Halsall, David McElhinney, who was chief executive of the now defunct One Connect and its sister organisation Liverpool Connect, and Ged Fitzgerald, the current Liverpool City Council chief executive (currently standing down) and former Lancashire County Council chief executive.

In November 2013, the police launched the inquiry, initially into the tendering of a £5m fleet contract with One Connect Ltd which led to the resignation of Mr Halsall.  It has examined the wider partnership with BT, including how Mr McElhinney, received two lump sums of £231,709 and £275,888 from the county council in 2013, allegedly authorised by Driver without the knowledge of its treasurer Gill Kilpatrick. 

In 2014, Labour councillors, who were in charge of county hall from 2013 to 2017, cancelled the controversial deal signed by Driver's previous Tory in administration in 2011.

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The ongoing investigation has made it difficult for Driver to continue in his role as Council Leader, as council officers he would normally work with are expected to be called as witnesses in any trial which might ensue. However he has refused to stand down temporarily, and has initiated a restructuring that saw the Tory group vote to merge the Chief Executive’s job with that of the council’s finance boss and financial watchdog, which some allege is a way of removing the current Chief Executive, Jo Turton. 

Driver intends to create three new Executive Director roles - one for Education and Children’s Services, one for Adult Services and Health and Wellbeing and one for Growth, Environment, Transportation and Community Services. The cabinet, chaired by Driver, voted to appoint an Interim Chief Executive and Director of Resources for up to 12 months. 

Labour group leader County Coun Azhar Ali opposed the proposals and predicted it could cost more than £1,000 a day to appoint an Interim chief. Afterwards he said: “We’ll be looking for ways to challenge this.”

Turton argued that combining a Chief Executive with a financial role “significantly reduces the checks and balances within the governance structure of the council”, adding that no other county council has done this and nor had large metropolitan authorities. She also opposed Driver's plans to separate children’s and adult services (children tend to live with adults).

Liberal Democrat leader Coun David Whipp dubbed the decision “disgracefully costly and frankly bizarre”.