A controversial council leader has resigned in protest at governance changes.
Guildford BC leader Stephen Mansbridge (Con) also quit as a councillor citing his objections to a hybrid committee and executive system, even though his deputy Nigel Manning (Con) was the lead member responsible for the change.
The council will from January supplement the leader and executive system with two backbench executive advisory boards, which will discuss council business and make recommendations. A scrutiny committee will continue largely for external matters.
Cllr Mansbridge said in a resignation statement: “I hold strong views about how the council is run and about its ability to make strong and good decisions. I cannot accept the changes in governance, which is why I voted against them at a recent council meeting.
“I have been passively in favour of a petition for a directly elected mayor because a successful petition would nullify any petition that attempts to weaken the council’s governance under the shroud of improved democracy.
“My view has evolved, in line with George Osborne’s direction for greater devolution, to be that we need larger entities with directly elected mayors.”
Despite the reference to his having only given “passive” support for the petition that circulated last May, Cllr Mansbridge attracted controversy when the Guildford Dragon website last week published minutes from a March meeting of the students’ union executive at the University of Surrey.
These showed Cllr Mansbridge had taken the unusual step of actively approaching the union to help campaign for an elected mayor.
A copy of the minutes supplied to LGC stated: “Councillor Stephen Mansbridge, leader of Guildford Borough Council approached [the union president] to ask for the union to support the current proposals for an elected mayor of Guildford.” Cllr Mansbridge has been contacted for comment.
One promoter of the petition was former councillor Monika Juneja, who was in May convicted of forgery, obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception and wilfully pretending to be a barrister.
During their terms of office Mr Mansbridge and Ms Juneja were both listed on the council website as directors of companies One Hit Consulting and Two Hit Consulting. There is no suggestion that either company engaged in impropriety.
The petition failed to attract sufficient support to force a referendum though remains open to additional signatures.
Meanwhile, Cllr Manning has taken over as leader pending the next council meeting.
Council managing director Sue Sturgeon said Cllr Mansbridge’s resignation was “unexpected and sad news”.
She added: “My clear message to everyone, including our partners, is that it will be business as usual. We have a very ambitious agenda, which the council agreed in the corporate plan.”