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Councillors hit back at petition calling for chief executive to step down

Council bosses in Oldham have hit back at a petition to have the chief executive ‘removed’, calling it ‘a waste of everybody’s time’.

The calls for Harry Catherall to step down started after a recording of a conversation between him and two councillors negotiating a deal were circulated on social media. 

The negotiation happened in the lead up to a major council meeting on May 22, in which Labour councillors narrowly retained control of the council after a challenge to Arooj Shah’s leadership. The petition accused Mr Catherall of ‘collusion’ with the Labour group and being ‘disrespectful’ towards elected members of the council. 

But a council spokesperson noted that no rules had been broken. Members of the executive team are invited to political negotiations to give technical advice and Mr Catherall attended several other meetings between different political groups, according to the spokesperson. 

Council leader Arooj Shah added: “With all due respect this petition is a waste of everybody’s time. 

“The chief executive attended a meeting between myself and other elected members to offer technical advice.

“I know, as well as other elected members do, that the chief executive had similar meetings with other group leaders and their representatives during the time between the elections and Annual Council because that is what his job entails.

“This is yet another distraction that the people of Oldham don’t want us to waste time and energy dealing with when we have real issues to combat and a plan to build a better Oldham.”

The petition, which was started by Julie Schofield on Change.org, has gained around 80 signatures in the last week and has been widely circulated on social media. A statement claims that ‘residents of Oldham have lost all faith in Harry Catherall’ and demands the chief executive’s ‘immediate removal, or resignation, from a position of trust’. 

It said: “The Chief Executive is paid a six figure salary to remain impartial. It seems very clear that this is not happening.”

In the recording, which was taken without permission through the council leader’s door and then shared on WhatsApp, Facebook and X, Arooj Shah and Shaw and Crompton Independent Marc Hince can be heard discussing a deal. 

Mr Catherall is also heard describing to coun Hince what happens in private briefings between councillors and the executive team. He says officers give a ‘factual overview’ to ‘share the full picture’ and ‘spell out the law to you’ so councillors ‘don’t go fighting something that they’re going to lose’. 

The councillor who made the recording was caught on CCTV and is currently under investigation by the council.

 

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