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By Mark Smulian ...
By Mark Smulian

Controversial Lincolnshire CC leader Ian Croft has narrowly survived a challenge to his position, in a development that keeps a question mark over the position of chief executive David Bowles.

Mr Croft held on to the leadership of the ruling Conservative group by 21 votes, to 17 for his pro-Bowles rival Bernard Theobald. Seven councillors were absent and one abstained.

The animosity between the leader and chief executive arose after Mr Bowles became a whistleblower in the case that saw former leader Jim Speechley (Con) jailed for 18 months for misconduct in public office (LGC, 14 May).

Mr Croft, a close friend of the former leader, has said he wants the chief executive to go, and council lawyers unsuccessfully instructed Mr Bowles to stay away from work (LGC, 23 April).

A council statement said it was 'a matter of record' that difficulties existed between them. Senior Conservatives from outside the county have sought to end the dispute, which they fear is harming the party's chances in the 10 June elections.

The county's appointments committee was to discuss whether mediation was possible on Wednesday, as LGC went to press.

Lincolnshire's annual meeting is due today and the Labour opposition was expected to press for clarification of the leader's attitude to the chief executive.

'Conservative members have declared their confidence in Mr Croft, but the rest of the world will look on askance,' said Labour leader Robert Parker.

Association of Local Authority Chief Executives honourary secretary Alastair Robertson said: 'If they want Mr Bowles to go there is a price to be paid.

'Quite apart from the usual things in a settlement, it will be extremely hard to convince anyone this was not payback time for [the Speechley case] so the whistleblowing legislation would come into play and it would be pretty expensive for Lincolnshire.'

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