Mystery as senior public figure quits

IAN CLARKE The mystery surrounding the future of one of Norfolk's most prominent public figures took a new twist yesterday when it emerged she had quit her £100,000 a year post to pursue “other challenges and interests”.

IAN CLARKE

The mystery surrounding the future of one of Norfolk's most prominent public figures took a new twist yesterday when it emerged she had quit her £100,000 a year post to pursue “other challenges and interests”.

Becky Hellard, 40, had “taken a step back” from her role as chief executive of Breckland Council a month ago while an investigation was launched into “issues surrounding her”.

She has not been back to Breckland's Dereham headquarters since then and handed in her resignation on Friday.

News of her departure was announced yesterday and she leaves with the blessing of the council's hierarchy, who praised the “significant impact” she had at Breckland.

It also emerged she had been talking to council leaders about her “career aspirations” for some time.

Most Read

The authority has declined to reveal any details of the nature of the investigation into Ms Hellard and what it found, whether it had cost taxpayers' money or if the allegations surrounded public money, whether other council employees were involved in the investigation and what termination package has been agreed for her.

A council spokesman said the authority was “constrained about what it could say”.

In relation to the investigation, a council statement said: “Ms Hellard has co-operated fully in the investigation process and defended all the allegations made against her.

“No further investigation into them will be necessary and no action will be taken against her.

“Her resignation, although a surprise at this point in time, was not wholly unexpected.”

The council added: “Ms Hellard has been having discussions with council leaders for several months about her career aspirations.”

Staff were sent an e-mail notifying them of Ms Hellard's departure and given a briefing by line managers.

Ms Hellard had been at Breckland since August 1995 - a year after qualifying as an accountant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers - and had risen through the ranks and took over the top post after previous chief executive Rob Garnett went on long term sick leave in 2004.

She became permanent chief executive in May 2005 and was the authority's first woman top officer and one of the youngest in the country.

Ms Hellard was at the forefront of many trail blazing initiatives carried out by Breckland including the £66m leisure package, a range of private-public partnerships and also the drive to give Breckland the lowest council tax in the country.

In accepting her resignation, council leader William Nunn paid tribute to Ms Hellard saying she was a “progressive chief executive who made a significant positive impact at Breckland Council throughout her period of employment”.

He added: “We wish Ms Hellard every success with her future career.

“Ms Hellard leaves the council with a strong management team in place and has every confidence that the high standard of services enjoyed by Breckland Council residents will continue.”

As well as her role at Breckland,

she is also chairman of Eastern Region of SOLACE (the chief executive's association) and chairman of the Inter Authorities Group.

Deputy chief executive Keith Davis - who works for Breckland on a “consultancy basis” - will take

over the reins while a recruitment process to replace Ms Hellard takes place, which could take up to six months.

Mr Davis has 28 years experience in local government working as a deputy and assistant chief executive in a number of authorities in London and the North West.

The council would not add to prepared statements and or give interviews and said Ms Hellard would not be commenting.