End of an Era for East Ayrshire Council as Chief Executive and Depute Chief Executive announce their retirement

Two of East Ayrshire Council’s top management team, who have 85 years of public service between them, have announced their decisions to retire.

Fiona Lees, who has held the position of Chief Executive since April 2004, will step down in January 2021 with Alex McPhee, Depute Chief Executive and Chief Financial Officer leaving in December 2020.

Fiona Lees said: “It has been the privilege of my life to serve as East Ayrshire Council’s Chief Executive, particularly during these recent months, as we have led our local response to Covid-19.

“With kindness and compassion, we have supported those most in need and I have never been more proud of our teams and of our communities. Increasingly, as we make our way out of lockdown, we are spending more time on recovery and renewal and that includes planning for the future and that is a future without me.

“I joined the local government family 42 years ago and it is a family that I have been honoured to be a part of. I believe deeply in the power of communities and the positive impact that good local government can have for those we serve.

“As I reflect on the achievements of our Council and the challenges we have faced, I am struck by our enduring resolve; we do not run away from problems, we run towards them to see how we can help. That is who we are.”

Fiona started her working life as a Community Worker and held a wide range of posts supporting community regeneration in communities throughout the West of Scotland. She was one of the first people to be appointed to East Ayrshire Council in 1995, joining the Council as Depute Chief Executive from Strathclyde Regional Council. Fiona was appointed Chief Executive in April 2004 and has become the longest serving local government chief executive in Scotland.

Fiona has been a respected voice in local government for many years and she is a past Chair of SOLACE Scotland, the professional body for Chief Executives and Senior Managers working in local government. Her advice and contributions are sought from across the public sector and most recently, she was appointed to the Scottish Government’s Social Renewal Advisory Board.

Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council said: “After more than 16 years as Chief Executive of East Ayrshire Council, Fiona Lees has taken the decision to step down in January 2021.

“Fiona’s commitment to serving communities has been constant throughout her career. She understands the value of working in partnership with our communities, our community planning partners, the voluntary sector and local businesses, for the benefit of all of our residents. This approach ensures that all our young people are enabled to reach their full potential, that our older and vulnerable people are protected and supported to live full, enriched lives and that our communities are always at the heart of everything we do.

“While I fully support Fiona’s decision to retire, Fiona will be missed and I know that like me, my fellow elected members and colleagues from across the Council will be forever grateful for her determination, strength, compassion, seemingly endless energy and unstinting commitment to our communities.

“Fiona Lees is a public servant, in the truest sense, she has had a long and distinguished career and I am proud that East Ayrshire Council has been a big part of that journey.”

Councillor John McGhee, Leader of the Labour Main Opposition said: “I have a great deal of respect for Fiona, and her years of dedicated service to local government, to our local communities and our most vulnerable residents.

“As Chief Executive, Fiona has built and nurtured positive relationships with all elected members, based on mutual respect and trust. This has helped to deliver services efficiently, innovatively and sustainably and to support our communities to fulfil their aspirations. I would describe both Fiona and Alex as stalwarts of East Ayrshire Council.

“I wish Fiona a long and very happy and healthy retirement with her family.”

Councillor Tom Cook, Leader of the Conservative Group said: “As Leader of the Conservative Group and also former Depute Leader of the Council, it has been a privilege to work with Fiona Lees. There is no doubt that the people of East Ayrshire have benefitted from her time as Chief Executive and her drive to improve the lives of all residents. Together we have delivered innovative and award winning projects.

“A particular highlight was securing UK Council of the Year in 2017. This was a very proud moment for the Council as a whole, as it reflected the exceptional work carried out to ensure that our improvement agenda was embedded in both the transformation strategy and community plan.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Fiona for her compassionate leadership during the Coronavirus pandemic. She has been in regular contact with all of our employees and has ensured that the most vulnerable in our communities have been protected throughout this very difficult time.

“It has also been a pleasure working with Alex McPhee. He has been an excellent Depute Chief Executive and leaves the Council in a strong financial position. I wish him the very best for his retirement.”

Arrangements for the recruitment of a new Chief Executive will begin shortly.

Alex McPheeIn addition to the announcement from the Chief Executive, Alex McPhee, Depute Chief Executive: Economy and Skills/ Chief Financial Officer, has announced that he will retire this December.

Alex, who has held the post of Depute Chief Executive since 2010 said: “Having managed to find a way to operate Council services over the last few months in the wake of unprecedented disruption, we are now in the process of re-thinking what we do and how we do it. It is clear that Covid-19 is not an event that will pass, but a new long term reality that we need to live and work with. Now that we are essentially through the initial response phase having learned many lessons, which will help in the anticipated ‘second wave’, it feels that we are now moving ahead into recovery and renewal.

“With 43 years of service behind me and the Council in a solid financial position, I believe that this juncture represents an opportune time for me to step aside and to let those with a longer term work horizon get to grips with shaping what the future Council should look like.”

Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of the Council said: “Alex McPhee has been an exceptional Depute Chief Executive and Chief Financial Officer ensuring East Ayrshire Council has been recognised by the Accounts Commission for its robust financial planning and performance.

“He has overseen a dramatic change in the Council’s financial position from an overall deficit balance of £2.4m in 1998/99 to now having £50m of balances set aside to fund a range of forward commitments and cover for contingencies like the impact of Covid19.

“Together with Fiona Lees, he was instrumental in devising a £1billion capital investment programme since 2010 that helped offset some of the worst effects of the last recession and has delivered new and refurbished schools; sports, business and community facilities and upgraded roads across East Ayrshire.

“Under his guidance the Council, in partnership with North and South Ayrshire Councils and the UK and Scottish Governments, agreed a multi-million pound investment package that will change the face of Ayrshire. The £251.5m Ayrshire Growth Deal aims to create up to 7000 jobs across a wide range of sectors with investment delivered over a 15-year period. This agreement was three and a half years in the making and involved skilful negotiation and collaboration, in which Alex played a major role.

“Alex has been a true public servant, having dedicated his life to local government and we are all grateful to him. I know that he intends to look for new and different challenges and he will also be able to devote more time to his sporting passion, Auchinleck Talbot.

“I wish Alex a long and very happy retirement with his family.”

Alex was appointed Senior Depute Director of Finance with East Ayrshire Council in 1996 after holding the position of Depute Director of Finance at Cumnock and Doon Valley District Council. He became East Ayrshire Council’s Director of Finance in 1998.

In 2013, Alex was named Finance Director of the Year and in 2014 was elected Chair of Scotland’s Local Authority Directors of Finance.

Alex was appointed Depute Chief Executive: Economy and Skills in April 2015 assuming strategic responsibility for Education, Planning & Economic Development, Finance and ICT and Policy, Planning and Performance. He is also the Council’s statutory Chief Financial Officer.