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‘Dr Nik Johnson should resign as mayor of Cambridgeshire’ fumes council leader after he’s found to have brought role into disrepute

A furious council leader has called on mayor Dr Nik Johnson to resign after he was found to have brought his role into disrepute and to have breached rules on civility following a code of conduct investigation.

Dr Johnson, the Labour mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, was told by the Combined Authority to apologise in writing and undergo training after it spent two years investigating complaints relating to his office.

Labour mayor Dr Nik Johnson. Picture: Keith Heppell
Labour mayor Dr Nik Johnson. Picture: Keith Heppell

But the authority has not yet disclosed what the mayor did brought the office into disrepute or how he was uncivil.

Cllr Anna Bailey, the Conservative leader of East Cambridgeshire District council and a board member of the Combined Authority, has slammed the sanctions as falling “woefully short of recognising the seriousness of the events that have taken place over the last two years”. And she has demanded that the mayor resign his post.

She said: “My thoughts are with the victims in this case, for that is what they are, those who have suffered terribly, whose stories remain unknown.”

She added: “The findings come after multiple code of conduct complaints against the mayor were made, the first of which was received anonymously two years ago.

“There is not one single member of senior staff, or any staff that had regular exposure to the mayor or the office of the mayor, that was in post two years ago left working in the organisation. The authority has been through six chief executives in less than a two-year period under mayor Nik Johnson. “

In her statement, Cllr Bailey said that the costs to date, “arising directly from the conduct of the mayor and his office” total just under £1.1m. These, she said, included payouts to avoid employment claims, legal fees, investigation fees, auditing fees and additional staffing costs for interim staff.

Anna Bailey, East Cambridgeshire District Council’s Conservative leader. Picture: Keith Heppell
Anna Bailey, East Cambridgeshire District Council’s Conservative leader. Picture: Keith Heppell

And she said: “We all have a duty to call out bad behaviour, to protect others and be decent human beings. For elected members the Code of Conduct takes that further, and for a qualified and practising doctor there is an overriding promise to ‘do no harm’. Mayor Nik Johnson has failed the people involved, he has failed the public, he has breached the Code of Conduct and I would have thought, the Hippocratic Oath. He has certainly failed at being a decent human being.

“Mayor Nik Johnson should resign.”

Dr Johnson apologised at Tuesday’s panel hearing into the investigation.

“I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what happened in those early days, and have long since realised that much of it needn’t have,” he said. “I regret having been a cause of upset and apologise unreservedly to those for whom I gave reason to complain. I am sorry. And I’ve actually wanted to say so for ages. I wish I knew then what I know now. I’m a better person for everything that’s gone on and I’d argue better mayor.

“I wish the organisation we were part of then was the one that is now and as it is so much better in every conceivable way. I say that because I genuinely believe all of these improvements began back then. And I can only hope that the very real, very public progress made since provides something in the way of solace.”

Dr Johnson won a shock victory over previous Conservative mayor James Palmer in a 2021 election. Tuesday’s hearing took place a year to the day after he underwent cardiac surgery at Royal Papworth.

“I’m in no doubt that being a relative and perhaps surprise newcomer, combined with inheriting an organisation that I saw as being in desperate need of life support, were substantial contributors to my becoming unwell,” he said.

Dr Johnson said his situation went to be “very challenging” and required he take more time off than expected.

He told those who complained about his behaviour: “We must go above and beyond the standards expected of us and any of us that fall short must be seen to take responsibility for their actions. I am sorry. I do apologise and I can only hope that through my words today and my actions since those difficult times two years ago, those to whom I am apologising, can at some point accept that I mean it.”

John Pye, independent chair of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s audit and governance committee, said at the meeting on Tuesday that the Combined Authority CA would also “invite the mayor to provide a written apology and for him to consult with the monitoring officer about the appropriateness of providing a written apology directly to one or more of the complainants.”

Mr Pye added the authority would “ask the mayor for an undertaking not to repeat this behaviour and agree with the chief executive officer appropriate development and training be undertaken during the next six months.”

In June 2022, it received a ‘significant risk reporting’ letter from the external auditor, citing serious concerns about the culture, behaviour and integrity in the mayor’s office.

The government later issued a ‘best value notice’ and withheld money from the authority.

A Combined Authority spokesperson said following Tuesday’s panel hearing: “Details of payments to individuals above a certain threshold are made public in the annual statement of accounts. The threshold for determining which details are published is contained with the Combined Authority’s constitution and align with the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015.

“Throughout the investigation we have protected the identity of individuals and have given regard to data protection laws and natural justice.

“The panel hearing unanimously agreed not to publish the investigator’s report, instead agreeing to publish background information within a decision notice later within five working days of the panel hearing meeting.

“The Combined Authority has never sought to interfere with the ongoing investigation or the panel hearing process.

“The cross-party panel hearing was chaired by an independent chair and we respect the unanimous decision they reached. As a result, we will not be commenting further at this stage.

“It would be inappropriate to make any comment on allegations about what is contained within the confidential report from the independent investigator.

“Commenting, or making speculative claims, and or statements, at this stage is inappropriate and risks identifying individuals involved throughout the independent process.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “All local authorities are required to promote and maintain high standards of conduct.

“We are aware of concerns relating to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and a best value notice was issued to the authority in January. This notice set out an expectation that the authority continues its efforts to conduct investigations at pace and to implement cultural change, particularly in relation to the relationships between officers and members and with the mayor’s office.

“We continue to monitor the situation at the authority closely.”

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