Unexplained absence to continue for top officer

Linda Fisher

Linda Fisher

Town hall bosses have appointed a temporary replacement for a leading officer suggesting her mysterious absence is set to continue.

Linda Fisher, who is the council’s monitoring officer and the assistant director of legal, has not been fulfilling her duties since the end of last month.

Wigan Council Chambers

Wigan Council Chambers

Her continued absence has sparked speculation at the town hall but the local authority has remained tight-lipped about why the top officer is not at work.

Councillors will be formally told at Wednesday’s annual council meeting that Brendan Whitworth has been appointed acting assistant director for the foreseeable future.

Mr Whitworth was previously the council’s principal lawyer and is said to have assumed the top role since April 28.

Elected members will be asked to confirm his appointment as interim monitoring officer, which is part of the legal director remit, although official documents for the meeting do not include any reference to Ms Fisher.

A town hall spokesman said the authority had nothing to add to its original statement which read: “We can confirm that Linda Fisher is not in work at the moment.

“It would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”

The timing of Ms Fisher’s absence, a week before the local elections, had raised questions about whether it is linked to a personal issue or due to an internal council procedure, for example.

Ms Fisher joined Wigan from Rochdale Council in 2014 and has enjoyed success with her clampdown on misbehaviour at council meetings by enforcing the code of conduct for elected members.

She also played a lead role in the internal investigation into the Don’t Blame the Council debacle which saw a number of leading officers leave the local authority.

And earlier this year she had been lauded for her work in securing funding for a new armed forces hub which is due to be built at the Wigan Pier quarter.

The council has not confirmed as yet if any of its officers will take on a lead role for the Armed Forces support projects during Ms Fisher’s absence.

Wednesday’s meeting will be the first since the local elections meaning a fresh cohort of councillors will be present in the chamber.

It will also include the mayor-making ceremony with outgoing first citizen Sue Loudon handing over the reins to Coun Ron Conway with Coun Bill Clarke officially installed as deputy.

The make-up of the council’s committees will also be confirmed with new or returning members Couns Michael Winstanley and Ray Whittingham (Conservative), Steve Jones (Independent Network) and Nazia Rehman, Paul Blay, John Harding and Patricia Draper (Labour) all taking up committee places.

Coun Conway, who is a Labour member for Aspull, New Springs and Whelley will be the borough’s first citizen for 2016/17 and has previously spoken of his pride in taking up the role.

He told the Evening Post last year: “I work full-time and I know the mayor and deputy mayor have a busy schedule but it’s something to look forward to. The process has taken about 18 month (to be selected) I have been on the mayor’s charity committee for years now.”