EXCLUSIVE: Basildon Council chief's 'retirement' announced at furious meeting last night after public and officers were kicked out

By Charles Thomson in Politics

THE CHIEF executive of Basildon Council announced his retirement this morning, hours after councillors voted to restructure the authority’s senior management.

Bala Mahendran will step down after more than 15 years at the council, including 13 in the top job. He will work his last day on July 31.

Labour leader Gavin Callaghan – de facto council leader since the opposition parties ganged up in May to scrap the minority Tory cabinet – tabled a motion at last night’s full council meeting over a proposed ’restructure’ of the council’s senior management.

The motion asked councillors to grant Cllr Callaghan and council officers permission to hold discussions with senior managers over possible ’terms of voluntary severance’

Press and public were booted out of the meeting before the motion was discussed.

Tory councillor David Dadds objected to the secrecy, saying there was nothing on the agenda about excluding the public – but the other parties teamed up to vote the measure through.

According to Cllr Dadds, all officers were then asked to leave the meeting as well.

After press, public and officers were excluded, multiple sources told the YA that instead of discussing the motion to restructure senior management, councillors were asked to discuss the terms of Mr Mahendran’s ’retirement’.

Cllr Dadds said the incident had ’made a mockery’ of the new committee system.

He explained: “The public was kicked out supposedly because we had a motion to discuss, but after they left we started talking about Bala’s settlement.

“The motion was a farce. They were asking for permission to do something when they’d clearly already done it – even though it had not been before council or committee so they had no authority to do it. It was wrong.”

The YA understands all Labour, UKIP and independent councillors – except mayor David Harrison – voted in favour of the restructure.

Cllr Harrison abstained and the Tories voted against.

Asked why he had abstained, Cllr Harrison said: “I was advised by officers that we should exclude the press and public from that portion of the meeting. As it went on, I started to feel that perhaps that had not been the right thing to do.

“I was uncomfortable with some of the comments being made in the meeting. I started thinking to myself, ’I don’t want to be a part of this’. So I abstained from the vote.”

Basildon Council issued a statement first thing the following morning, announcing Mr Mahendran’s departure.

In it, Mr Mahendran said: “I have for some time been reflecting on my own career and future. I have been the chief executive for 13 hugely enjoyable years. I cannot overstate how proud I am to have held the post for so long, indeed as the longest serving chief executive Basildon has ever had. However my own future is something I have been considering for some time.

“Therefore, the change of political leadership, a new decision-making system, and the continued need to redesign how we provide our services, has convinced me that now is the right time to step down from the position of chief executive - and allow the authority to establish a new, long-term officer leadership.

“I have not taken this decision lightly. I started thinking about my future back in July 2013 when I took flexible retirement. And I believe now is the right time for the authority, for myself and my family, to move on to fresh challenges and opportunities.

“I would like to take a moment to say how proud I am of the work that we have all done here collectively over the past decade or more.”

A Basildon Council spokesman said: “Bala Mahendran has been an outstanding public servant to Basildon in the 13 years he has been chief executive. He has overseen the regeneration of the borough, and was a key influencer in developments like the Sporting Village, which will stand as a testament to his work for many years.

“The council would like to put on record its thanks for his contribution, work and leadership throughout this time - and to wish him every success in the future.”

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