When Lorraine O’Donnell is voted in by councillors next week as expected, she will become Cheshire East Council’s fifth chief executive in its 11-year history.
She will be just the third to hold the role on a permanent basis – and the first to have a doctorate in theoretical physics from the University of Oxford.
Ms O’Donnell swapped the world of academia for local government in County Durham back in 1994 – taking on a role at Derwentside Council, before later moving to Darlington Council and Durham County Council.
In a profile published in The Guardian back in 2001, Ms O’Donnell said: “I didn’t want to continue in physics. I didn’t want to become an academic.
“I want something with a bit more of a people element. I think overall academia was much more solitary than the job I do here.”
Most recently, Ms O’Donnell served as director of transformation and partnerships at Durham County Council.
She took voluntary redundancy from the role late last year, before the local authority revealed plans for a shake-up of its senior leadership team last December.
A report presented to Durham councillors says that as director of transformation and partnerships, Ms O’Donnell oversaw the council’s plans to move to a new £50 million headquarters.
She also played a key role in plans to move the council’s archives from Durham’s County Hall into a new history centre.
And the report praises the work Ms O’Donnell did in the ‘transformation of business services’ at the council – with all of its savings targets either delivered or on track to be delivered.
The report adds: “[Ms O’Donnell] submitted an application for voluntary redundancy which given the naturally time limited nature of the transformation programme and the significant milestones achieved across all major projects has been approved.
“The council has been successfully implementing one of the largest transformation programmes in the country.
“Review meetings with [Ms O’Donnell] have established that the major projects within the programme have now been developed sufficiently to provide a natural transition to business as usual.”
Ms O’Donnell’s track record in transformation at Durham could prove to be very useful at CEC.
At the same time as Cheshire’s local government reforms in 2009, Durham County Council merged with seven district councils to become a large unitary authority similar to CEC.
The council is currently working through plans to scrap its cabinet and replace it with a series of decision-making committees – a project so complex that political group leaders recently agreed to delay it by a year.
CEC’s local plan continues to be a key issue for the local authority – with more allocations for housing, traveller sites and mineral resources still to be confirmed.
The authority also continues to wrestle with rising budget pressures in children’s and adults’ social care, along with uncertainty in how services will continue to be funded beyond the next financial year.