News in brief: Council CEO caught up in Covid vaccine row quits
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
Denbighshire council has confirmed its its chief executive is taking a “career break for personal reasons” with immediate effect after being on “special leave” for around two months.
Judith Greenhalgh had been CEO at Denbighshire council since April 2018, when she officially took over from former chief officer Mohammed Mehmet.
She hasn’t been seen at County Hall in Ruthin since shortly after a Cabinet meeting at the end of January.
Now the authority has released a statement officially recognising the head of its paid service has stood down – less than three years after she started the role.
It said: “The Chief Executive, Judith Greenhalgh will be leaving the council on April 6, after nearly three years in post, to take a career break for personal reasons.
“The council would like to thank Judith for her contribution during her time with Denbighshire County Council and wish her all the very best for the future.’”
Corporate directors Graham Boase and Nicola Stubbins will take charge of the organisation while the search for a new CEO takes place.
Ms Greenhalgh secured the £130,000 a-year position after what Cllr Evans called at the time a “rigorous selection process”.
She was a former director of corporate resources at Derbyshire county council, and deputy chief executive of the probation service in Manchester, where she still lives.
When she was appointed the authority had sought someone who “could provide leadership and vision to ensure the council is structured, managed and resourced effectively”.
However at a behind-closed-doors meeting convened on March 15, full council approved a severance package for Ms Greenhalgh, who had been on “special leave for personal reasons” for at least the previous five weeks.
Over the last few months there have been grumblings from senior cabinet members they were not being made aware of everything the executive branch was doing.
Matters came to a head in January, when elected Leader Cllr Evans only found out about potential breaches of a Covid vaccination booking system after reading about it in the Press.
It emerged an email invite was sent to Denbighshire council’s health and social care staff from Betsi Cadwaldr health board’s Covid-19 testing email address, giving qualifying workers priority to arrange a coronavirus jab.
The email was wrongly shared with other local authority employees, leading to some potentially being able to book a vaccination slot – despite being healthy and in none of the priority groups.
In a fractious full council meeting a couple of days later, on January 26, Cllr Evans said: “It’s important to note, while things are highlighted in the Press, it’s important we as officers and members are familiar with all the facts before we take any action or have a position on it.”
He said responding to Press reports on a subject Cabinet members had no prior knowledge of was “not an ideal way” to reach a conclusion on an issue.
At the same meeting the council’s CEO said an investigation, into whether anyone who was not entitled to a jab had managed to get hold of one, had already been commissioned 12 days previously – and staff had been warned not to share the emails.
The results of the investigation have still not been made public.
Cllr Hugh Evans said: “We will be taking steps to recruit a new CEO over the coming months.
“Our two corporate directors will assume leadership responsibilities, supported by the senior leadership team, until such time as the new CEO is in post.
“Meanwhile, all Denbighshire council officers and elected members continue to work together to fulfil our commitment to deliver the best possible service to residents.”
Parents urged to stay vigilant as schools prepare to fully reopen
Health officials have called for parents to help control the spread of coronavirus as learners in Wales return to face-to-face teaching next week.
From 12 April, all children will return to school and further education colleges will be open to over 16s. Training centres and university campuses will also be able to open for blended face to face learning for all students.
“Please do not send your child to school if they are unwell, even if you are not sure if they have coronavirus,” Dr Giri Shankar, Incident Director for the covid-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said.
“When you take your child to school, always keep your distance from other parents, wear a face covering, and don’t stay around and chat. Please don’t invite other children or their parents to your home to play or stay indoors, even if they are in the same bubble at school.
“We need to continue to limit the numbers of people we meet socially to minimise spread of the virus. Currently a maximum of four people from two households living locally can meet outdoors, including in private gardens.
“Make sure your child understands the importance of washing their hands regularly.”
Meanwhile, today’s update from PHW has confirmed a further two people have died with coronavirus and 126 people tested positive for the virus since yesterday’s update.
Due to the Easter break, today’s figures combine reports from Sunday and Monday.
The newly recorded deaths were in the Aneurin Bevan and Betsi Cadwaladr health board areas.
Cardiff (30) recorded the highest number of new case, followed by Swansea (21) and Rhondda Cynon Taf (10). There were no new cases over the two day’s covered in the update in Monmouthshire.
Swansea currently has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 44.1 per 100,000 people, followed by Neath Port Talbot’s rate of 43.3.
The national case rate has fallen from 28.1 to 24.8 since Monday’s report, while the weekly positive tests proportion has reduced from 2.5% per 100,000 tests to 2.3%.
A total of 1,493,192 people have now received a first dose of the vaccine in Wales and 469,251 have had both doses.
DVLA staff strike over safety concerns
Staff at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea have started a four-day strike from today over Covid safety concerns.
One member of staff has died and 500 more have tested positive for the disease since September and a coronavirus outbreak was declared at the agency’s headquarters in December.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services union voted for strike action by 71.6% on a turnout of 50% last month.
PCS said it was asking its 3,300 members at the Swansea HQ to strike “to protect workers’ safety”.
“They are being forced to take this action for the sake of not just their own health and safety, but the safety of their family and their work colleagues,” The union’s DVLA branch secretary Sarah Evans told BBC Wales Breakfast.
“They don’t feel the DVLA are taking their health and safety seriously.”
Just 250 of 6,000 staff were working from the office at the beginning of the pandemic, but that number has since increased to over 2,000 the union says.
Agency officials said they were disappointed by the industrial action, which would affect motorists. A spokesperson added, “There is currently not a single member of staff in the 10-day isolation period, out of a workforce of more than 6,000.”
Calls for new national parks to protect marine habitats
A conservation group is calling for the creation of a 10 national parks around the UK coastline to protect marine habitats.
Pembrokeshire and the Severn estuary are among the locations the Blue Marine Foundation has identified as potential locations and said the new said marine parks could pay for themselves by attracting extra visitors.
The other sites proposed by the group are: the greater Thames London Gateway; East Anglia Suffolk, the Wash and north Norfolk; north-east England, Tyne to Tees, Northumberland and Berwickshire; north-west England, Cumbria and the Solway Firth; Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly; the Argyll coast and islands in Scotland; and the crown dependency of Jersey.
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