Updated: Council Chief resigns

lorraine-o'donnell Pantling studio

The Chief Executive of Cheshire East Council, Dr Lorraine O'Donnell, has submitted her resignation and is due to leave on 15 October 2023, to take up a new role as Chief Executive of Bradford City Council.

Following a recruitment process commencing in late 2019 the Council approved the appointment of Dr Lorraine O'Donnell to the post of Chief Executive at the Full Council meeting of 20 February 2020. She was appointed on a salary of £151,000.

An urgent Item of business has been added to the agenda for tomorrow's (Wednesday, 19th July) council meeting to discuss arrangements to recruit a new Chief Executive, who will also hold the position of Returning Head of Paid Service.

The report states "Initial discussions with executive recruitment consultants support a review of the current remuneration package of £159,405 (per the Pay Policy Statement 2023/24). The final recommended salary of the successful candidate will relate to relevant skills, experience and the labour market."

Updated: July 19th - Following a decision at the full council meeting on 19 July, the Cheshire East's appointments committee will undertake the recruitment and selection process for a new chief executive and also consider interim arrangements.

Dr O'Donnell said: "This has been an extremely difficult decision as my time at Cheshire East has been the most enjoyable period in my career and I am very proud of what we, as an organisation, have achieved over the last three years.

"I have seen real, positive change in the organisation, and we have overcome significant challenges – not least supporting the borough through an international pandemic, a cost-of-living-crisis and the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

"We can also be proud of many achievements. We have successfully moved to the committee system of governance, agreed a four-year balanced budget (for two consecutive years, despite the national funding challenges), opened major new roads (Congleton link road and Poynton relief road), made significant progress towards our carbon neutral plan and introduced a new customer strategy and charter, to name just a few.

"Cheshire East Council is a fantastic place to work and I have really enjoyed working with councillors, officers and partners and will miss the people, the borough and the council enormously. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made me feel so welcome from the start and whose professionalism and dedication has made working here such a pleasure."

Councillor Sam Corcoran, leader of the council, said: "I would like to thank Lorraine for her work in Cheshire East and wish her well in her new role. Lorraine's contribution to developing the organisation we are today has been significant and invaluable.

"This has been a time of change for Cheshire East Council and Lorraine has been a driving force, supporting and delivering our vision for the borough. The work now begins to find a new chief executive to lead us in the next stage of our journey, seizing new opportunities and meeting new challenges."

Councillor Craig Browne, deputy leader of the council, said: "Lorraine joined Cheshire East Council just as the first Covid lockdown began. In her three years as chief executive, Lorraine has supported the organisation through the duration of the pandemic. This has included leading significant changes to working practices for our officers and councillors alike.

"Lorraine can be proud of many achievements, not least supporting the move to the committee system – a significantly different form of governance and decision-making for the council. The organisation is now in a strong position. I thank her and wish her luck for the future."

Photo: Dr Lorraine O'Donnell.



Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below.

Jonathan Follows
Wednesday 19th July 2023 at 9:59 am
This presents Cheshire East Council with an excellent opportunity to save hundreds of thousands of pounds a year by abolishing the post. It seems to have become "baked in" to our local authorities but it's an over-paid post without real responsibility and should not exist. It's a gravy train for people who come and go and get paid ridiculous amounts of money along the way. I'd far rather have this money spent in other ways.
Jon Williams
Wednesday 19th July 2023 at 12:56 pm
The total amount Cheshire East paid for its chief exec over the year – including pension contributions – amounted to £241,131.30 Apr 2023 !
Simon Rodrigues
Wednesday 19th July 2023 at 7:05 pm
Realised its to much or not good enough to make the change either way no improvements more wasted money again…..
Simon Rodrigues
Wednesday 19th July 2023 at 8:02 pm
Realised its to much or not good enough to make the change either way no improvements more wasted money again…..
Barry Buxton
Wednesday 19th July 2023 at 8:57 pm
These commentators are penny wise and pound foolish!
Simon Worthington
Thursday 20th July 2023 at 11:39 am
Another one on the taxpayers gravy train! Part of the “troughocracy”!
John Harries
Thursday 20th July 2023 at 12:18 pm
This is not a personal comment aimed at the (another) outgoing Cheshire East CEO but I cannot understand why there is a need for a separate post, essentially a titular head of an operational management group (and the numerous other 'operational' subordinate Committees) of a public organisation - which costs us, the electorate £M1/4 of funding! I've briefly read through the incumbents resignation statement and some of the acknowledgements of colleagues and I'm thinking.......outstanding??
It's absolute nonsense and unnecessary, where is the value added to the rates payers. One of the elected executive should surely be the Chairperson (and just be proud of the fact, no +£'s but effectively the CEO) holding a casting vote and a modicum of common sense and probity and if an executive committee are then unable to sort out their own organisation/policies they shouldn't be on that committee in the first place.
If Dr O'Donnell's swan song legacy is the recently rubber-stamped green bin subscription fee then I rest my case....
Mark Goldsmith
Friday 21st July 2023 at 4:05 pm
Cheshire East is the 3rd biggest council in the North-West, behind only Liverpool and Manchester.

It has 3,500 staff and spends £320m a year on services alone. It also oversees construction projects worth almost £600m.

As councils go, Cheshire East is also as complex as they get. No other council in the UK delivers a more diverse range of services, as many areas have separate district and country councils. The Chief Executive role at Cheshire East oversees all of this plus it has legal responsibility to uphold our democracy and for safeguarding vulnerable people too.

So I am staggered that anyone thinks this is a ‘non-job’.

If you would like to know what Dr O’Donnell has done, then please read the Grant Thornton audit report into the chaos of how Cheshire East operated before she joined. https://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/council_and_democracy/your_council/council_finance_and_governance/public-interest-report-january-2023.aspx

Thankfully, we don’t have those scandals anymore and the report states the large improvements that have been made. These improvements took place while we also changed how the council is governed, dealt with a global pandemic and with rampant cost inflation too. This is all testament to the great job she has done.

She is now leaving us to join Bradford City Council, which is much smaller than Cheshire East but is paying her considerably more. I don’t think she is leaving just for the money though. Bradford is an inner-city council in financial difficulty that will give her different challenges.

However, she goes with our blessing and leaves Cheshire East in a far better position than when she joined.


Cllr Mark Goldsmith
Residents of Wilmslow
Wilmslow West & Chorley
Jon Williams
Friday 21st July 2023 at 10:37 pm
Lets save £250000 a year then and do without one !
Simon Worthington
Saturday 22nd July 2023 at 12:03 pm
If all that is true Mr. Goldsmith then perhaps some charges of malfeasance, misfeasance or misconduct in public office should be considered for those who allowed such a mess to proliferate in the previous years along with recovery of salaries earned in the process.
Ryan Dance
Saturday 22nd July 2023 at 5:52 pm
Your words of wisdom always amaze me. Perhaps re-read the comments above. Focus on Marks Goldsmith. Given the expenditure, complexity and comparison to the private sector (even though bureaucracy makes somewhat simple decisions infinitely more difficult, cumbersome and inefficient). I don’t think it would be unreasonable to expect a council to have a chief executive in post. Bewildered
Pete Taylor
Wednesday 26th July 2023 at 3:57 pm
I have to say how comforting it was to know that she was supporting me over the death of QE2; if only it were the death of HS2.
Vince Chadwick
Wednesday 26th July 2023 at 10:23 pm
Pete Taylor: do you know what HS2 is really about? If you don't, you are far from alone as it has been appallingly badly presented. It is portrayed in the media as a vanity project to save a bit of time for businessmen between London and Birmingham. In reality, it will (or would before this government lopped bits off it) release 70% (yes, 70%) capacity on the now full West coast main line, Midland Main Line, and East Coast Main Line by removing the high speed non-stop capacity-gobbling services to the new railway.

This will not only be beneficial for places that currently see trains whizz past but never stopping since there isn't the capacity for many stopping trains at present, but rail freight, which is hopelessly capacity-constrained, will be able to flourish and we could shift meaningful amounts of freight off the motorways and onto rail.

Near here, the Mid Cheshire line through Knutsford has just an hourly service, so crowded at peak times that passengers get left behind. A half hourly service was promised several years ago and indeed is enshrined in the operating contract, but has not happened because there are no train paths to spare between Stockport and Manchester. A similar situation at Stoke means the much needed but mothballed Leek to Stoke line cannot be re-opened. HS2 will solve problems like this. Even passengers as far from HS2 as Aberystwyth will benefit from more train paths at Birmingham.

Check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nf5avCUNP0M&t=1035s
Jonathan Follows
Tuesday 5th September 2023 at 6:01 pm
The BBC reports today that our elected councillors have decided that a starting salary for this job is "simply too low" at £160,000 and should be between £170,000 and £190,000. Apparently they don't think that the right candidates will be attracted if the salary isn't increased. I'm at a loss for words.
Nick Jones
Wednesday 6th September 2023 at 8:22 am
I suggest that Lorraine O Donnell's step from academia into local govt for financial reward continues.. as her moves from Durham to Derwent and Cheshire were each significant increases in reward ... so more cash at Bradford.. enjoy and good luck to her... ... Maybe CEC picked the wrong transient ambitious young person in the first place ??.. But she leaves despite reserves with cllrs indicating CEC being some £20 Mill in the hole... the price of success ??... I dont accept there is a need for increase, there is certainly a case for reduction of expenditure and a root and branch clear out in CEC's empire to save money ... The position in this small county does not warrant a significant increase in salary , im afraid Craig Browne and others have got this and public mood wrong when precepts increase and additional stealth taxation costs to empty bins... CEC has a chequered history with poor leadership please dont go there again .. Is this the 6th or 7th Exec in 11 years?? ... Selection needs to improve not the salary.
Mark Goldsmith
Wednesday 6th September 2023 at 9:08 am

The BBC also reports our current CEO is leaving to join a smaller council for more money. Cheshire East is the 3rd largest council in the North West (behind only Liverpool and Manchester) but we pay one of the lowest CEO salaries around.

This is why the Conservative opposition yesterday even suggested a salary of £200,000 should be offered.

Cheshire East has a legal obligation to have a CEO and we have a free market economy. Therefore, whether you or I think this is too much is largely irrelevant. What matters is "Does the salary attract appropriate candidates?"

When CEC previously advertised for a new CEO, they had 32 applications. None of them had ever been a CEO. They were all looking for a promotion and had no evidence they could do the job.

While, I understand people may think this salary is too much, I doubt few have any idea of what the role involves or how important it is to the smooth running the council. Cheshire East is far more complex to run than any business I have worked for at director level (including multi-billion $ international conglomerates, whose CEO was paid $5 million a year).

Cheshire East cannot take a business CEO though as they just don't have the necessary expertise. Councils have completely different legal frameworks, rules and method of operation than businesses. Therefore, there is a small pool of people with these skills and they set how much they will do the job for, not Cheshire East.
Jon Williams
Wednesday 6th September 2023 at 5:14 pm
What happened to "Best Value" ? More like "How to spend the most"
Alan Brough
Wednesday 6th September 2023 at 9:04 pm
I’m afraid that Mark Goldsmith and Craig Browne are failing to read the room.

CEC have had a litany if high salaried executives who ( to put it very kindly) ““underperformed”

The Council, as an entity, is underperforming and by their own admission will continue to do so. They Blame cuts in budget from central Government but I don’t hear anything if Councillors chaining themselves to the railings at County Hall in protest. I don’t even hear a breath of any sort of representation on behalf of the hard pressed Council Tax payer.

All I see is acquiescence to whatever is handed down, increases in Council Tax and a processional change of high salaried Execs who appear to ride the Gravy Train with complete impunity for the people they are paid (extravagantly) to serve and the increasing hardships heaped upon them.

Councillors Goldsmith and Browne’s support for this state of affairs is well noted.
Mark Goldsmith
Thursday 7th September 2023 at 3:07 pm
@Alan - It is not a question of reading the room. I was elected to use my experience and judgement to ensure CEC runs as smoothly as possible. Having worked with CEO's in large global businesses and now in local government, I see at close quarters the critical importance of this role at Cheshire East.

Therefore, should I ignore this and uphold the wishes of residents who don't have that experience? Who largely base their views on the media perception of local councils, which is totally alien to my experiences?

Prior to being a councillor, I would probably thought the same as you though, but having been in the heart of the council, I see the daily struggles and the huge importance of a great CEO. So do the Labour, Independent and Conservative leaders, who all support increasing the CEO's pay.

Most councils around the country are now struggling financially. Both Warrington and Cheshire West & Chester have announced today that they have similar financial difficulties to Cheshire East. So either we are all incompetent or else the system of funding local services is now starting to break under the strain. The government wanted councils to be self-funding, so over the past decade removed £100m a year in grants to Cheshire East. However, it simultaneously ignores this self-funding concept by saying Cheshire East is a "rich" area, so they will take 70% of our Business Rates (another £70m a year).

That's £170m a year or 50% of your Council Tax. Which goes straight to central government and not to local services.

Of course we complain. But it's not their problem. They never feel the heat. The public, like you sees they are paying more but getting less and blames Cheshire East.

We have started to discuss with Whitehall about keeping more of our Business Rates but the government department is in no hurry to conclude them. The ministers change every few months too, so there is no continuity either. Therefore, unless this becomes an election issue, there seems little incentive for whoever forms the next government to grasp the nettle and fix how we fund our local services.

Until that is done, we will need a great CEO to balance the books and keep our local services going.

@Nick Jones: The perception of Cheshire East is that it's a small, sleepy council, but that's not the case. It's:

- The 15th biggest local government authority in England & Wales (out of 252)
- The 17th most complex in terms of the different services it delivers (again out of 252)
- Has a £700m annual spend on services and building programmes and 3,000 staff

But our CEO pay is in the bottom 10% - 25% pay scale. Which is why our current CEO can move to a smaller council and still get a 25% pay rise.
Pete Taylor
Thursday 7th September 2023 at 6:26 pm
Cheshire West have overspent by £10.8 million.
Craig Browne
Thursday 7th September 2023 at 6:58 pm
Dear all,

I usually refrain from commenting on wilmslow.co.uk as I regard it as the domain of the Wilmslow Councillors; however, some of the comments above reveal a lack of understanding of how local government works and how it is legally required to operate. This is perfectly understandable and it is only through being an elected member myself that I have been able to gain an insight and better appreciation of these processes.

To begin with, all local authorities must have a Chief Executive; it is a statutory role (in other words it is a legal requirement as set out in the Local Government Act). The Chief Executive is the Head of Paid Service and is responsible for the day to day operational management of the council; they are also the person who is ultimately responsible in the event that things go wrong, for example the "baby p" scandal. The post carries a high level of responsibility.

Political leaders set the strategic policy direction, but they do not implement these policies, nor are they responsible for the day-to-day operational management of officers. Elected members are not "employees" and they do not receive a salary for their work; rather they receive an "allowance". The allowance reflects the difference in levels of responsibility between elected members and senior officers of the council, which is why as Deputy Leader, I receive an allowance that is only one-sixth of that paid to the Chief Executive.

Cheshire East Council is not an underperforming authority; however, it does operate within an extremely challenging environment. For example, it is the 17th largest and most complex council in the country, delivering over 500 different services to c.400,000 residents. It has the busiest Planning Department in the North West, as well as the 7th busiest in the entire country; yet at the same time its renumeration of officers puts it between the lowest quartile and the lowest decile compared to other councils.

As recently as 2014/15, Cheshire East Council received £56.9m annually from central government as an unringfenced grant to support the delivery of council services; today the value of that grant is zero and yet the council has had to continue delivering services. The demand for high-level SEND provision within Cheshire East increased by 62% last year, putting an extra £48m pressure on council budgets; this has forced us to make unpopular decisions (such as the green bin charge) simply to balance the books.

It is patently untrue to claim that we have acquiesced in the face of these challenges. We have continued to lobby central government hard and often; however, we have done this as a local government sector, working together with our partners in the cross-party Local Government Association and the County Councils Network, in order to achieve greater impact. For examples of this lobbying, I refer readers to the links below:





We currently have the longest serving Chief Executive in Cheshire East Council's relatively short history, as well as the longest serving Director of Governance & Compliance. The last time we advertised for a new Chief Executive (three and a half years ago) we had some excellent candidates applying, but not one of them had experience of being a Chief Executive in another authority. Put simply, the salary was too low to tempt them.

I hope this is helpful in answering some of the questions and addressing some of the concerns raised above.

Kind regards,
Cllr Craig Browne,
Deputy Leader of Cheshire East Council
Nick Jones
Saturday 9th September 2023 at 9:17 pm
The basic salary of an MP is £86K, Leader of the opposition £126k, The Prime Minister£165k .. ( plus pension benefits) .. I think they have complex issues to deal with over and above CEC's ??, as does the Mayor of London on £153K population 9.5 Million, Mayor of Manchester £110K population 2.8 Million , Mayor of Liverpool £85K population 1.4 Million ... The chief exec of Manchester City Council is the highest-paid employee in local government in North West on £250k, and with a population of approx only 400 thousand , yet there is an appetite to pay £200k in CEC... This isn't private industry, its public service ... leaving aside individal wealth of some of the above individuals who arent in politics for the wages anyway , Bradford has a population of 550K ... If you want to go down this route take a pay cut to fund it.. please remember the support for independents came from being in touch with your communities and doing the right thing, dont let the chequered history of the past repeat itself.
Alan Brough
Sunday 10th September 2023 at 7:48 pm
@Craig Browne,

I think that, by your comments, you fail to understand how your voters want local government to work.

What we want is representation.

It’s all well and good to admit that since taking office you’ve come to understand the processes of Local Govt. but those processes are archaic, ineffective, costly and need to be over-hauled.

I (very actively) supported AE1 and ROW in the hope that breaking the lazy Tory stronghold at CEC would bring about improvement in local services. I am saddened to find that the reverse has been true and we are seeing swingeing cuts in services.

As I said in my earlier comment, I don’t hear what is being done by CEC to challenge Central Govt or our local MP on the cuts in funding.

I see a huge increase in new house building throughout Cheshire East which will bring significant tax revenue. I don’t see any investment in supporting that development (roads, schools, healthcare, transport) and, on the evidence of my own experience, the much touted investment in “Adult Social Care” is nothing more than a fabrication that has let down countless families in their hour of need and will continue to do so.

I’m afraid that, whilst you and your back-slapping colleagues might wave Cllr O’Donnell farewell and praise the work she has done at CEC, those of us who pay her wages might be entitled to feel (not a little) angry about the cuts in services over which she has presided and the prospect of having to pay even more for the next brief encounter.

I wonder if the residents of Birmingham City were lectured on the need to pay the rate rate to attract the right talent?
Jon Williams
Monday 11th September 2023 at 2:09 pm
The average salary for Chief Executive Officer is £132,062 per year in the United Kingdom and I would not say C/E is above average, would you !
Nick Jones
Tuesday 12th September 2023 at 3:12 pm
Mr Brough makes a valid point about what CEC is doing to get its house in order to spend within its limits as it taxes residents more and raises more from newbuilds.. We have been here before and those responsible paid the price at the ballot box. More of the same simply isnt good enough. Looking at other councils spending outside their means Nationally perhaps more austerity measures need to be considered ... were already getting less for more .......... https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/sep/11/more-english-councils-expected-to-fail-owing-billions-warns-moodys
Stuart Redgard
Friday 15th September 2023 at 12:24 am
I simply just don't understand some of the comments on this thread.

If you are not happy then either stand for office (like i have done), or apply for the job (Which I will not do as I don't have the skill set required).