Looking back the early part of Dr Nik Johnson’s time as Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) was beset with problems, not least the fact many expected the incumbent mayor James Palmer would gain a second term.
To say it was a baptism of fire might be an understatement – as has been amply demonstrated Mayor Johnson experienced a torrid few months that spread well into the following year.
It led to resignations (including that of one chief executive Eileen Milner who having taken on the £200,000 role in July 2021, left 8 months later and with a pay off of £169,000) and a whistleblower complaint over use of procurement cards and allegations directed at the alleged behaviour of Mayor Johnson’s chief adviser Nigel Pauley.
Some of the issues got resolved but hanging over Mayor Johnson has been a protracted code of conduct complaint.
On Tuesday November 14, in the Coningsby and Bourn Rooms of Pathfinder House, St Mary’s Street, Huntingdon, and commencing at 10am, Mayor Johnson can expect to learn his fate.
For CAPCA, code of conduct complaints mean entering unchartered waters but after a lengthy – and costly – inquiry a report has been put together into the allegations against him and it will be down to a sub committee of the audit and governance committee to determine their validation or otherwise and decide what, if anything, should be the outcome.
The make-up pf the sub committee has been announced with Alan John Pye (he prefers to be known simply as John Pye) in the chair.
In June 2021, Mr Pye was approved as the independent person to chair the audit and governance committee of CAPCA until May 2025, a role he held under the previous mayoral term.
Continuation of the role he had held under Mayor James Palmer was agreed with incoming Mayor Dr Johnson.
Sitting alongside him will be Cllr Andy Coles, Cllr Simon Smith, and Cllr Graham Wilson.
Cllr Coles is a former police officer and Conservative councillor from Peterborough and until last week a cabinet member; he is not unfamiliar with political intrigue having leapt to the defence this summer of Conservatives in Peterborough when he “strenuously” denied allegations of a toxic culture and bullying.
He was responding to the departure of Cllr Mohammed Farooq who quit the Conservative group after making the claims and last week, now as a member of Peterborough First, became council leader.
Cllr Simon Smith is a Labour city councillor for Castle Ward, Cambridge City, and lists his “competencies gained from 40-years of experience in town planning, local government management and business”.
The sub committee quartet is completed by Cllr Graham Wilson, a Lib Dem county councillor from Godmanchester, Huntingdon.
He, too, is not unfamiliar with code of conduct issues, having chaired the audit and governance committee of Cambridgeshire County Council and oversaw publication of the Mazars report into the conduct of former deputy county council leader Roger Hickford.
Cautious about what ought to be put into the public domain, Cllr Wilson will be aware that, in whatever redacted form it takes, the public is entitled to know outcomes of conduct complaints.
CAPCA’s proposals for next week are simple:
1: To vote to exclude the press and public “during consideration of any items the publication of which would disclose exempt information”.
2: Marked ‘private’ the hearings panel will debate the report into the code of conduct complaint against Mayor Johnson. The four panel members will have heavily scrutinised the report ahead of the meeting.
3: Marked ‘public’ the agenda simply says: “Decisions by the sub committee to be read out”.
Earlier this year Rob Bridge, once a director at Fenland District Council before holding chief executive posts in Welwyn Garden City and Northamptonshire, became chief executive of CAPCA.
In a recent statement he said: “The outcome of the panel’s consideration of the report, and any recommendations will be made public, having regard to data protection laws and natural justice.
“I recognise that the thorough investigation of these complaints has taken a considerable time, but that has been necessary to allow a thorough, impartial, and fair investigation to take place.
“While this investigation has been under way, the work of the authority has continued as normal, and we can see we are making clear progress: our staff survey shows our people feel more valued, better led and are more likely to recommend us as a great place to work.
“The Combined Authority will make no further comment on the investigation, the contents of the report or the hearing panel process at this time.”
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