SENIOR councillors last night refused to reveal why an award-winning council chief has been sent home on gardening leave.

Peter Simpson, chief executive of Hambleton and Richmondshire district councils, was escorted from council offices at the Civic Centre, in Northallerton, on Friday, The Northern Echo understands.

He is now on paid leave-ofabsence from his £106,600-ayear job. Although Mr Simpson is chief executive of both North Yorkshire authorities as part of a shared services arrangement, the decision was taken by senior councillors at Hambleton without the knowledge of colleagues at Richmondshire. Last night, Hambleton leader, Councillor Neville Huxtable refused to discuss the decision other than to say in a statement: “I can confirm that Peter Simpson is now on paid leave of absence from work and will not be carrying out any functions as chief executive of Hambleton and Richmondshire district councils.”

The council said Mr Simpson had been placed on “gardening leave” rather than being suspended.

Coun Huxtable is expected to make an announcement on the situation at a council meeting today.

John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire, is due to discuss the move with colleagues on Wednesday.

Coun Blackie said that despite working for both authorities, Mr Simpson was employed by Hambleton and it had been its decision to remove him.

He said he had not been consulted on the decision, and said: “We were disappointed that the concordat between us, the two councils, did not allow for consultation on what is clearly an important decision.”

He said that although Richmondshire council remained committed to the shared services agreement, his authority would now review the governance of the arrangements.

He said both councils owed Mr Simpson a debt of gratitude for his work introducing the shared services, which had saved the two councils £2.6m in three years.

He said: “His talent and competency have never been in doubt here at Richmondshire.”

Mr Simpson oversaw the launch of the shared services partnership in 2009. The councils work together on ICT, benefits and refuse collections.

They also share a senior management team, including Mr Simpson, who divides his time between Northallerton and Richmondshire’s headquarters in Richmond.

A further review of the management structure was announced earlier this month, which was being led by the chief executive.

In 2010, Mr Simpson was recognised for his leadership and contribution to local government at the Local Government Yorkshire and Humber Making a Difference Awards.

He is a national leader on shared services, helping other councils make similar changes. He became chief executive of Hambleton council in 1996.