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Combined Authority faces fresh turmoil after Tory leaders refuse to accept conduct ruling

Cllr Chris Boden: ‘It stinks of a cover up and it stinks of secrecy’

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Mayor Dr Nik Johnson will invite Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to begin code of conduct action against Cllr Anna Bailey, leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council. It follows her refusal – twice – to withdraw damaging allegations against him made in the wake of a well-publicised hearing which found he had committed two breaches of the code of conduct, one of civility and the other of disrepute.

But Cllr Bailey has persisted in wanting other allegations – all dismissed after an extensive probe – aired publicly.

And she repeated that mantra as recently as last Thursday in an ‘opinion’ column for her local newspaper.

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“In my opinion, the sanctions available to the hearings panel and imposed by them fall woefully short of recognising the seriousness of the underlying issues which led to total chaos and dysfunctionality at the authority,” she wrote.

“Right now, my thoughts are with the victims, those who have suffered terribly, whose stories remain unknown. I apologise to all those staff that have suffered at the hands of the CPCA; the authority has failed you.”

She remains angry that the cross-party hearing “agreed not to release the investigator’s report, a decision with which I strongly disagree; the panel, the mayor and the authority all signed up to the principles of transparency, scrutiny and accountability”.

But she is not alone in her campaign.

Cllr Chris Boden is leader of Fenland District Council, the only other Conservative controlled council with board membership at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Authority.

Cllr Chris Boden said the county council’s actions were “all of part of this war on motorists which is being waged by those who see themselves as being the best arbiters as to what people can do, what they should do, and how they should do it and how they should live their lives”.

Cllr Chris Boden – leader of FDC and also a member of Cambridgeshire County Council and Combined Authority

Mayor Johnson will now consider options after a ‘planted’ question from a recently elected and fellow Whittlesey councillor gave Fenland Council leader Chris Boden the opportunity to launch a vitriolic attack on him.

Cllr Elizabeth Sennitt Clough asked Cllr Boden at a Fenland District Council meeting about “complaints about the mayor’s conduct and I wondered what had happened?”

It offered the council leader the chance to repeat allegations surrounding a recent code of conduct hearing into the mayor’s behaviour and for Cllr Boden the opportunity to air publicly issues he had been told not to raise at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

At one stage Cllr Boden said that “I am restricted in what I can say”.

He also added: “I have taken legal advice today from officers here at FDC about what I should or not say and I will be extremely careful about what I do and do not say.”

Much of what Cllr Boden is open to challenge, particularly with reference to Combined Authority providing workers with personal alarms because of their feeling “under threat”.

As I reported in June 2021, there was an incident of a female member of staff at the Combined Authority being left shaken and terrified after a particular incident.

But this was because the worker, a 24-year-old woman, was spat at by two men as she was walking from a car park through Cherry Hill to the Combined Authority office in Market Street, Ely, when the incident happened.

A colleague told me at the time that the victim “was obviously in shock and cried for a time – who wouldn’t?”

Staff there believe it was a random attack and not related to the fact the victim works there.

The combined authority has not revealed the circumstances surrounding issuing of alarms and it is not known at what level an employee with access to procurement cards used it to buy alarms from Amazon (£461 was spent on personal protection alarms for staff).

However, Mayor Johnson was concerned about this incident, reported it police, and did talk to senior officials about employees being alone in the office if they arrived early or late.

And in October of 2021, Mayor Johnson also called for fresh checks on security following the murder of MP David Amess.

By the next month, however, the office had closed because of Covid and never re-opened.

The hearing against Dr Johnson, which concluded last month, found he breached the code of conduct concerning civility and disrepute.

All other allegations were dismissed, although some of these continue to be raised, in particular by Cllr Anna Bailey, Tory leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson said: “In truth it wasn’t always clear that I would be coming back; don’t get me wrong, I wanted to, the mind was definitely willing, perhaps the body not so much”

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson told Cllr Anna Bailey: “You have also made an unsubstantiated insinuation regarding instructions given about me to a junior member of staff, choosing a form of words that could be interpreted as suggesting impropriety on my part.”

Twice Dr Johnson has invited her to withdraw her damaging claims – twice she has refused, and he is now filing a code of conduct complaint against her.

But at last Monday’s meeting of Fenland District Council, her Tory colleague, Cllr Boden, ploughed on and began his speech to councillors with a bizarre reference to American history.

Here is his speech in full:

“People think that Richard Nixon was brought down as a result of the Watergate break in.

“But he was not he was brought down by the cover up following the Watergate break in

“Something similar we are seeing in the combined authority, not necessarily the original activities which are so threatening, not really to the mayor but also to the CPCA as a whole, it is the cover up which is taking place, or if you prefer the secrecy there has been

“And that secrecy has been really counter productive for the mayor personally and just to give you an example, given THE seriousness of what is in the public arena, number of people on social media jumped to conclusion in absence of any other information that it is about sexual impropriety on the part of the mayor.

“Now I could tell you to the best of knowledge that is wrong.

“But people have jumped to that conclusion because of the lack of information and so long as there continues to be secrecy and obfuscation on subject of what has actually happened, there will continue to be speculation and people will continue to assume the worse.

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“Now I am in difficult position because I have seen some information in the CPCA meetings which have been exempt papers which have been considered in private session.

“I have also on occasion been shown reports and which I have had to make confidentiality agreements that I would not say anything on what report has been shown to me and I am not going to break confidentiality agreements I have agreed to or breach requirements of exempt papers which are confidential.

Cllr Anna Bailey points an angry finger at Mayor Dr Nik Johnson. “He should resign,” she says.

Mayor Dr Johnson warned arch critic Cllr Anna Bailey, Conservative leader of East Cambridgeshire, that he would take action against her allegations, and invited her to “publicly retract those remarks and apologise accordingly”.

“I have to say I am not so sure those items will stay confidential and secret for too long because too many know about and too many people are very angry about the activities which have taken place which happened to come out into the public arena

“At the recent meeting of the board there was a discussion for two hours about the complaints which had been made against the mayor and the report which there was conducted by an independent examiner into those complaints

“But I have not seen that report, have not even seen it under confidential rules, and the report was not made public

“Instead, a summary was produced, and that summary is what was in the papers of the combined authority

“Even that summary was quite damning in its way

“It said that the matters involved were serious, it says the mayor had breached the code of conduct and required the mayor to make apologies for that.

“But the detail involved was not disclosed, so it was not disclosed what the mayor was apologizing for, and it seems to me that on the spurious grounds as far as I can tell of GDPR, that the guilty are being kept hidden and the victims are being denied a voice.

“And I am not quite sure how long the victims will continue to be denied a voice given how angry some of them are.

“I cannot reveal any of the information I obtained but I continue to receive – even this afternoon – information which I had not been provided with independently (by the combined authority) and I am under no obligation not to say something about that.

“I have taken legal advice today from officers here at FDC about what I should or not say and I will be extremely careful about what I do and do not say.

“But even the summary report which was produced by the CPCA at the last board meeting was quite damning.

“It talked about, believe it not, the word is actually in the report, it talked about a henchman and it said – an astonishing word to use in any official report I think a henchman – and it basically said the mayor had been aware of the henchman’s behaviour, did not call out the behaviour, nor did the mayor take sufficient and appropriate steps to stop it and his failure to intervene amounted to him condoning such behaviour.

Council leader Cllr Chris Boden (left) at the Fenland District Council election count.

Council leader Cllr Chris Boden (left) at the Fenland District Council election count.
Picture by Terry Harris.

“And that behaviour was very serious, some of it mentioned here making extremely derogatory and threatening and damaging remarks behaviour, derogatory remarks about members of staff, senior members of staff

“There were a number of things involved in this and are serious and are being kept secret

“I am restricted in what I can say.

“If we look – I can look at this because it is public – statement of accounts, staff notes you find some very strange entries indeed and these are exit payments.

“These aren’t pay, not pensions, but payments if you get sacked and an entitlement to back pay or notice period or holiday, these are exit payments and it is not unusual but if someone is departs an organization it is not unusual for an exit payment over and above what they are statutorily entitled to which has been agreed by the individual and the employer

“And very often this is connected to a non-disclosure agreement, not always, in the cases we have here, but very often and an astonishing amount of £397,000 was disclosed in last year’s accounts for those exit payments, extra payments which were not statutory for five senior officials and there were others as well.

“Now an authority will not spend that amount of money unless it believes it is saving money by doing so, which says something about state of affairs.

“Now I cannot go into detail but at the board meeting, matter of public record, I asked if it would be permitted for example for me to ask questions or make comments about the state of health of some of the former employees of the combined authority who were victims of the situation that we are talking about.

“And I was told that was not appropriate to talk about in public – I had to accept what the chairman said.

“I asked if was appropriate to talk about money spent on home security for members of staff – and I was told again that is not appropriate for public discussion.

“I had to accept that.

“But still I strive to find more information than I got from combined authority, some of the things I have seen have been absolutely appalling.

“Just to give one example, and I would only mention this not because it has been alleged by an individual, but I have seen physical evidence, documentary evidence to back up the claim, that the combined authority felt it appropriate to pay for Amazon to deliver a personal alarm to a 21-year-old young woman with autism who required it because of feeling under threat.

Cllr Anna Bailey, the Conservative leader of East Cambridgeshire Council, a car fanatic, and general pain in the side to the rainbow alliance at Shire Hall and to the functioning of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

Cllr Anna Bailey, the Conservative leader of East Cambridgeshire Council, whose column in a local paper this week re-iterated her determination not to apologise to Mayor Dr Nik Johnson 

“Things like that are absolutely outrageous; they really should come out into the open.

“I am prohibited from saying anything which I learnt directly from the combined authority but let me emphasise it is not alleged the mayor himself was responsible for those threats, I am not suggesting that for one second and I hope it is not true, as far as I am aware it is not true, but the whole thing stinks.

“It stinks of a cover up and it stinks of secrecy.

“And these things do come out in the end, they are not going to come from me, but they will come out in the end.

“So, the current position is wholly unsatisfactory, and further investigation is required and ultimately, I am quite confident the truth will come out.

“And it is always better to be honest about what happened than to try and cover it up.”

 

 

 

 

 

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