COUNCILLOR Shona Johnstone has resigned after less than six months as leader of Cambridgeshire County Council after admitting making an inappropriate telephone call to a candidate to succeed Ian Stewart as the council s chief executive. Following the ca
COUNCILLOR Shona Johnstone has resigned after less than six months as leader of Cambridgeshire County Council after admitting making an "inappropriate" telephone call to a candidate to succeed Ian Stewart as the council's chief executive.
Following the call, the candidate, Mark Lloyd, chief executive of Durham County Council, decided not to accept the new job.
Cllr Johnstone will be replaced as caretaker leader by Councillor Keith Walters, from Sawtry, who led the council for 10 years until succeeded by Cllr Johnstone on May 15. Technically, his appointment will need the council's formal endorsement at its meeting on December 11. He is also chairman of the Cambridgeshire Police Authority.
Cllr Johnstone said her decision was "in the best interests of the County Council and its services".
She added: "I think that the row over the appointment of a new chief executive has been blown out of all proportion by some councillors.
"I accept that I made one inappropriate phone call, but it was driven entirely by my desire to get the best possible candidate to work with me and the council's cabinet to deliver top quality, value for money services for the people of Cambridgeshire.
"As in any large organisation, the relationship between the leader or chairman and the chief executive is very important. If that relationship fails, then it usually means the organisation fails. That concern was my sole motive for making that phone call.
"I must emphasise that at no point, did I ask the candidate to withdraw.
"I accept that on this one occasion I made an error of judgement in contacting the candidate directly. For that reason, and for that reason alone, I am now resigning as council leader."
She will remain as a county councillor representing the needs of residents within her Willingham division.
Cllr Johnstone told The Hunts Post: “I hope I can continue to make a contribution from the back benches. There’s a huge amount going on in Cambridgeshire and, if there’s any way I can help to support that work, I want to do so.
“But I’m disappointed that I let people down, and I hope I can learn from my mistake.”
The former Home Office civil servant admitted that divisions in the ruling Conservative group about congestion charging in Cambridge city could have contributed to the way the crisis had unfolded. As many as half the 40-odd Tories on the council are reportedly opposed or uncommitted.
“The Transport Innovation Fund (the Government fund from which the county is bidding for £500million to compensate for road pricing in the city) has been quite divisive, but it was absolutely right to get people to debate the issues. It’s very easy to put your head in the sand and hope congestion will go away. It won’t, and we have to face up to some potentially unpleasant decisions.
“It would be naïve of me to say the two things were not connected.”