Third chief finance in just over a year for Northamptonshire County Council

Ian Duncan is stepping down from his role as chief finance
Ian Duncan is stepping down from his role as chief finance

Northamptonshire County Council has appointed a new officer to oversee the council’s finances, who will be the third person in the position in little over a year.

Ian Duncan was appointed as the council’s section 151 officer in October, and is responsible for overseeing the authority’s finances. But he is due to step down in late September.

Mr Duncan was one of a trio of leading senior officers brought in from Trafford Council to try to restore order to the county council, with current chief executive Theresa Grant urging Mr Duncan and Paul Helsby (transformation director) to follow her in taking up the task of tackling the council’s financial crisis.

On being awarded the job, Mr Duncan described it as the biggest challenge of his career. But just a few months later, he has decided to call time on his stint at One Angel Square, with councillors wishing him an ‘enjoyable retirement’ during a discussion on the 2019/20 budget delivery on Wednesday (July 31).

An internal message to council staff from Mrs Grant said: “We will welcome a new member of our leadership team in late September and unfortunately say goodbye to Ian Duncan, our current executive director (finance) and section 151 officer.

“In light of the confirmed timetable for the new unitary councils being 2021, Ian has decided not to extend his fixed term appointment for a further year and in consultation with us agreed that making a new section 151 officer appointment now, as early as possible in the lead up to March 2021, was in the best interests of the council.

“I would like to recognise what Ian has done in his time with us, helping us deliver the significant challenges of last year’s 2018/19 budget and supporting our improvement work.”

Mr Duncan’s short stint comes after he replaced Mark McLaughlin last year. Mr McLaughlin himself only served in the role for eight months, but in that time issued two section 114 notices banning new expenditure. Mr Duncan’s spell has been less dramatic, but has not been without its challenges. The council is already forecasting an overspend of nearly £6million for the current financial year.

It’s a big task then for Barry Scarr, the ‘experienced senior financial director’ who has been appointed to replace Mr Duncan. When he begins on September 30, he will be the fourth chief finance officer for the council in less than two years.

Mrs Grant told staff in her email: “Barry has section 151 experience and a good track record leading financial management at county and city councils; recently working with Bradford, Sunderland, Northumberland and a number of London councils.

“Our commissioners have made this statutory appointment under the responsibilities given to them by the Secretary of State. The selection process included the commissioners, chief executive, leader and portfolio holder.

“Barry will start with us on Monday, September 30, and will be working with Ian in the coming weeks on the transition. I am sure you will join me in welcoming him to our council as we progress in our transformation journey.”