Pressure mounts for Cllr Johnstone's resignation
PRESSURE was mounting this week on Councillor Shona Johnstone to quit as leader of Cambridgeshire County Council after her intervention led to the successful candidate for chief executive to snub the £200,000 a year post.Opposition counc
PRESSURE was mounting this week on Councillor Shona Johnstone to quit as leader of Cambridgeshire County Council after her intervention led to the successful candidate for chief executive to snub the £200,000 a year post.
Opposition councillors are mounting a sustained bid to get her to stand down and even one of her closest political allies described her actions as “regrettable”.
Mark Lloyd, chief executive of Durham County Council, was the unanimous choice of a county council appointments committee but withdrew less than 24 hours later after two phone calls from Cllr Johnstone.
Mr Lloyd has been chief executive at Durham since 2005 having joined the council in 2000 as director of economic development and planning. Twelve years ago he served on Lord Justice Scott’s inquiry into the Export of Arms and Defence related equipment to Iraq.
Aghast Liberal Democrats on the council have now tabled a complaint to the Standards Board of England complaining that Cllr Johnstone has breached the councillors’ code of conduct.
“She has brought the council into disrepute,” said Councillor David Jenkins, leader of the Liberal Group.
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Their complaints focus on what happened at the appointments committee which met last month and agreed to offer the post to Mr Lloyd.
But the following morning, and after two calls from Cllr Johnstone, Mr Lloyd opted to stay in Durham.
Although no one will clarify the contents of those phone calls, The Hunts Post understands the focus of the conversation was whether Mr Lloyd could work harmoniously with Cllr Johnstone. There was also two other candidates, including an internal application. That candidate was Gordon Jeyes, in charge of children and young people’s services who is one of the council’s three deputy chief executives currently running the authority.
The third candidate for the post was Trish Haines, chief executive of Reading Borough Council.
Cllr Jenkins described Cllr Johnstone’s phone calls to Mr Lloyd as “absolutely unusual” and said she had no business making the calls.
“If she had some concerns, then she should have raised them at the appointments committee,” said Cllr Jenkins.
“Did she perhaps say something to make him withdraw? I know she has issued a statement saying she did not pressurise the candidate but I am not happy with that response.”
He added: “Whatever it was they discussed, I’m sure it wasn’t going to be the make of the car we might provide him with”
Cllr Jenkins said the interview and selection process was intensive and all seven members of the appointments committee – who include four Tories and three opposition members – had agreed upon Mr Lloyd.
He expects it could be at least a year before a replacement is found- but in the meantime is asking the Standards Board to investigate Cllr Johnstone’s role in the affair.
Cllr Alan Melton, who chaired the appointments panel, said of Cllr Johnstone: “I think the action she took is regrettable, but she has apologised and that’s all I am prepared to state at this point.”
Cllr Melton said he knew of the proposed Standards Board complaint “and it would be unwise of me to comment further as I am likely to be one of those questioned by an ethical standards officer if a full scale investigation takes place.”
The county council intends to appoint an interim chief executive from January, before re-advertising the job nationally.
Cllr Johnstone was unavailable for comment today but last week denied putting any pressure on Mr Lloyd during their conversation. She was “staggered” when he later withdrew.