Fringe Box



Labour Leader Calls for GBC Leader to Consider Stepping Aside

Published on: 17 Feb, 2024
Updated on: 19 Feb, 2024

Commenting on last night’s announcement by Guildford Borough Council that two directors had stepped back from their roles while investigations into the Housing Revenue Account overspends and potential fraud continue, Cllr James Walsh, leader of the Labour Group at Millmead , called for the council leaders to also step aside.

He said: “We are seriously concerned that the council’s governance processes for housing repairs contracts may have failed and by the sudden loss of two more senior officers – one of whom was the interim CEO.”

Cllr James Walsh

The Labour Group has supported the council’s work to balance the books and investigate the housing repairs overspend but Cllr Walsh continued:

“However, this report – which councillors have not yet seen – indicates that there has been a lack of grip in recent years that also extends to the political sphere.

“Council officers are ultimately responsible to elected members and we feel, therefore, that responsibility must also be shared by the ruling Liberal Democrat group which has been in control of the council either in coalition with R4GV or alone since 2019.

“We need answers for why ‘serious concerns’ about the governance of important and expensive contracts were not picked up by lead councillors from both parties sooner.

“Cllr Julia McShane has been lead member for housing services for the last five years and, as the two senior officers have already done, we feel that she should also consider stepping aside while the investigation continues. This would go some way to reassuring residents about the council’s commitment to transparency at this extremely difficult time.”

Conservative group leader Philip Brooker

The opposition and Conservative Group leader Philip Brooker also criticised the Lb Dems saying: “It is a wonder that Guildford Borough Council functions at all under this Lib Dem administration.

“In the last three years they have employed three chief executive and three chief financial officers. In addition, there have been recent resignations from the executive heads of both Environment and Housing Services. And now we learn that two of the remaining three strategic directors are stepping back from their respective roles to protect the integrity of the housing maintenance investigation where it was admitted at last full council that there was an overspend of £18.5 million on two housing contracts.

“That this Lib Dem council is in significant financial difficulties is well known and it cannot be that such high senior staff turnover is coincidental to these difficulties. In fact, it is a clear indication of a totally dysfunctional administration. The people of Guildford deserve better from their elected representatives.”

R4GV group leader Joss Bigmore

Joss Bigmore, leader of the Residents for Guildford & Villages group was given no notice of the news. He said this evening: “I am afraid this announcement has taken me totally by surprise. I understand the need for a level of confidentiality in situations like this but it means the majority of councillors know the same as Dragon readers.

“However, I would like to say that in my experience both Ian [Doyle] and Annie [Righton] have been exemplary officers and I find it hard to believe they have done anything to warrant this course of action.

“I also feel this is all taking too long, there seems to be multiple investigations (Reigate and Banstead Council, Surrey Police, and now potentially another one) getting in each others way and ther’s no sign of conclusion in the imminent future.”

Cllr Peter Martin, Conservative leader at Waverley Council

And the leader of the Conservative group at Waverley Borough Council, Cllr Peter Martin, also wished to comment. He said: “This is terrible news for Guildford Borough Council and its residents.

“Because of the progressing collaboration it also means at Waverley BC we are without another two executive heads (one of whom was acting CEO). So this is terrible news for Waverley residents too.

“Once again we ask the question – why is Lib Dem-run WBC insisting on progressing collaboration with this struggling Lib Dem-run Guildford council which is in total disarray and mired in fraud investigations?”

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Responses to Labour Leader Calls for GBC Leader to Consider Stepping Aside

  1. Paul Spooner Reply

    February 19, 2024 at 10:47 am

    I entirely concur with the comments made by Cllrs Walsh, Brooker, and Bigmore at GBC and Cllr Martin at WBC. It is extraordinary that Guildford has collapsed (not just financially) since 2019.

    The Liberal Democrats in Guildford should be ashamed of their performance and the leader should have stepped down months ago. I recall that Cllr McShane said she wasn’t a natural leader and I was surprised when she took on the role but enough is enough.

    I hope it is not too late to save what was a very successful borough with good co-operation across the political sphere. It is sad that for nearly five years the Lib Dems have focused on locking out experienced Conservative councillors in the name of politics.

    It is time for experience to return to the Executive from all parties at GBC.

    On a personal note, I echo Cllr Bigmore’s comments relating to Ian Doyle and Annie Righton and feel very sorry for the way they have been treated. Shameful in so many ways. Transparency and Openness? They are dead at GBC.

    I only hope that new leadership can revive something from the ashes.

    Paul Spooner is a former Conservative GBC leader.

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