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Row over Cambridgeshire chief erupts

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A political row over the withdrawal of Cambridgeshire CC’s chosen new chief executive has highlighted the increasingly fraught relationships between leaders and top officers.

Leader of Cambridgeshire Shona Johnstone (Con) faces referral to the Standards Board for England amid allegations that she brought the council into disrepute by interfering in the appointment.
The job was offered to an external candidate, who accepted but then withdrew from the process after two phone conversations with Cllr Johnstone, whose ruling Conservative group has been rocked by heated disagreements over the appointment.

LGC has agreed not to reveal the name of the candidate to maintain their privacy. The row comes in the wake of Nottingham City Council calling in the Improvement & Development Agency to mediate between leader Jon Collins (Lab) and chief executive Michael Frater who are in dispute. And John Foster quit Wakefield MDC after falling out with leader Peter Box (Lab) (LGC, 20 September).


A Cambridgeshire spokesman said: “The appointments panel interviewed three candidates and the job was offered to one of them, but concerns were expressed by the leader and others members of her group.

“She discussed them with the candidate who withdrew and stayed in their present post. She did not put any pressure on the candidate to withdraw.”

Opposition leader David Jenkins (Lib Dem) said he will refer the matter to the Standards Board.
He sat on the appointments committee, which he said met for two-and-half days guided by a recruitment consultant, before unanimously offering the post to the candidate.

“The next day Cllr Johnstone rang the candidate, and he decided not to take the job, Cllr Jenkins said.
The affair means Cambridgeshire faces 18 months without a chief executive. Previous incumbent Ian Stewart retired in May, and the council does not plan to re-advertise until April.

Appointments committee chair Alan Melton (Con) said: “Having no chief executive is matter of concern, but we have got a strong management team.”

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