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Stephen Mansbridge – A Look Back On An Eventful Council Career – Part 1

Published on: 20 Oct, 2015
Updated on: 21 Oct, 2015
Stephen Mansbridge - CEO AGM Transitions

Stephen Mansbridge – CEO AGM Transitions

The sudden departure of the leader of Guildford Borough Council has caught many by surprise and it can be directly linked to recent Guildford Dragon NEWS’ stories that he had kept even his political colleagues in the dark about his involvement with an “elected mayor” petition.

Here we review, in three serialised articles, the eventful career of the former council leader Stephen Mansbridge. Local political life was certainly not dull during his time as leader. Some are mourning his loss others celebrating. Why not read the articles and make up your own mind?

Stephen Mansbridge, 53, who lives in Tongham was first elected to Guildford Borough Council (GBC) in 2007 to represent South Ash and Tongham ward.

Opinion Logo 2The son of a parson, he had served 16 years in the British Army as a Coldstream Guards officer rising to the rank of major.

Leaving the army in 1997, he worked as the operations director of a software house, Altimax, that produced customer relationship management systems; started a Guildford-based company Hilcote, advising armed forces personnel moving into civilian careers which he sold; and joined DBM plc, another ‘career transition’ company, as director of services.

In 2005 he was a co-founder and CEO of AGM Transitions, provider of career transition advice. The company was sold in 2014 to a business associate.

Cllr Mansbridge came to full prominence in Guildford in September 2012 when he ousted Cllr Tony Rooth in the wake of a legal challenge from the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) to the planned public consultation on the Local Plan. Tony Rooth had only months earlier appointed Mansbridge as his deputy.

He said shortly after becoming leader: “One of our core themes, going forward, will be to improve engagement with the residents of Guildford so that the decisions we take are ones they support and believe in.”

Many believed him. He really did seem like a breath of fresh air. He talked the talk and he talked it well.

Some were surprised with one of his first decisions to promote Monika Juneja, a younger, relatively inexperienced councillor representing Burpham. She was given the planning and governance portfolio.

David Hill centre on the balcony of the Guildhall during the commemoration of Armed Forces Day, June 2013.

David Hill, objectives read out publicly – an ominous warning.

In March 2013 he surprised councillors and observers again when he read out the objectives of David Hill, the largely unpopular chief executive officer, at the time. Some predicted correctly that Hill’s days were numbered.

The council leader encountered his first major controversy after he was stopped and arrested by the police in Farnham Road, Guildford at 11.50pm on Friday, April 12 on suspicion of drink driving.

Guildford Law Courts 1 475

Guildford magistrates found Mansbridge guilty of drink driving.

He pleaded guilty at Guildford Magistrates’ Court on April 30 2013 and received a three-and-a-half-year driving ban and a £1,665 fine. His punishment was increased because of an earlier offence for which he was convicted nine years ago.

He said at the time: “I am deeply sorry for this dreadful lapse of judgement and regret my actions in every sense possible. I am fully aware that I have caused intense embarrassment to my family, friends, political colleagues and the council and offer them all my unreserved and heartfelt apologies.”

During a contrite interview on Eagle Radio, which seemed to become his preferred, and perhaps less challenging, local medium, he said that he had offered his resignation but had been advised to wait and not rush into any decision.

The truth was that there was no one with the ambition or ability to challenge him within the Tory group and despite some clear disdain from some, including those he had ejected from the Executive, he was able to continue untroubled.

John Rigg, GVG Chairman

John Rigg, GVG chairman.

In the wake of the conviction in May 2013 John Rigg chairman of the Guildford Vision Group, whose action had brought down Mansbridge’s predecessor, said: “He has introduced a different approach and made an effort to listen… So, setting aside his recent conviction perhaps we are better off with a leader who wants to make a positive difference?”

But then, just a month later, Stephen Mansbridge compared the Guildford Vision Group (GVG) with IRA terrorists, and questioned the group’s objectives following  its attempt to, once again, block approval of planning documents by the council.

In July 2013 a grievance procedure was launched against David Hill, the the GBC CEO and Cllr Mansbridge sent him on special leave. He was never to return to his post. Most council officers, not all, were understood to be pleased.

There was more controversy in September 2013 when in a rancorous and lengthy council meeting, a tight vote allowed planning permission for a major housing development on a green field site in Ash.

Carol Humphrey, former head of planning at Guildford Borough Council.

Carol Humphrey, former head of planning at Guildford Borough Council.

Mansbridge accused the council’s own planning department, publicly, of producing a sub-standard report and not properly communicating with ward councillors, including him. Some councillors, and the then head of planning, Carol Humphrey, were visibly incredulous.

But more was to come. The leader of the opposition, Cllr David Goodwin (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas), angrily claimed that Cllr Mansbridge had probably not received messages on the subject because he had been too busy “down the pub”. Both councillors issued apologies later for their bad behaviour.

Cllr David Goodwin.

Cllr David Goodwin, said Cllr Mansbridge had been “too busy down the pub to take council messages”.

In October 2013 it was announced that David Hill’s position as chief executive of Guildford Borough Council was to disappear as part of a council management re-organisation. He left before the investigation into a grievance made against him was completed and was given a golden handshake, reported to be £160,000.

Speaking about the organisational review, conducted by a consultant, Robin Hooper, council leader Stephen Mansbridge said: “We are looking for a sense of openness, honesty and trust.”

And then in November 2013 after the “March on Millmead” by the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) he said: “As the leader, I hear what people are saying: that we need to push back at the government’s suggestion that green belt development is necessary, but we need to assess this and the only way we can do this is through the Local Plan process.”

Marchers chanting outside Guidford Borough Council offices at Millmead this afternoon.

The “March on Millmead”. The failure of Cllr Mansbridge to face up to the marchers did not go down well.

In March 2014 after a rapprochement between GVG and the council leader, the council announced its appointment of a team of master-planners from Allies & Morrison. This marked a sea-change in the approach of planning changes in the town centre.

But more controversy was shortly to follow that indirectly would lead to Cllr Mansbridge’s downfall.

In the next article… Monika Juneja arrested and charged, the Lovelace by-election, the Mansbridge/Juneja business relationship and the resignation of deputy council leader James Palmer.

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Responses to Stephen Mansbridge – A Look Back On An Eventful Council Career – Part 1

  1. Gordon Bridger Reply

    October 21, 2015 at 6:40 am

    Impressive reporting by Guildford Dragon NEWS.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    October 21, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    It’s beginning to sound like the plot of a Jeffery Archer novel, although his are made up.

    Jeffery Archer? Thanks for nothing. Ed 🙂
    PS Mind you, he sold plenty.

  3. Nick Axten Reply

    October 21, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    I don’t know how far Part 3 will take us, but I can’t help feeling there ought to be a blockbusting Part 4.

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