Cambridgeshire mayor Dr Nik Johnson ordered to apologise after conduct breaches
The mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has been ordered to apologise and undertake training after it was found he had breached the Combined Authority’s code of conduct.
Dr Nik Johnson said he is sorry and had considered quitting the role when his health deteriorated last year.
A hearing panel held on Tuesday unanimously resolved that the Labour mayor, who leads the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, had breached the code in relation to civility and disrepute.
It follows a whistleblowing inquiry which prompted calls for Dr Johnson in May 2022 to resign or suspend himself during the inquiry, which he rejected.
The panel unanimously decided on four sanctions, of which two relate directly to the Labour mayor, behind closed doors. The sanctions were then read out in open session. However, the breaches were not. It also decided that a report detailing the full investigation would remain private.
The Combined Authority has since confirmed that it will provide further information relating to the nature of the breaches when it publishes its formal decision notice within the next five working days.
John Pye, independent chair of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s audit and governance committee, said: “We decided the first sanction going with the constitution is to publish the findings in the decision notice.
“The second sanction is to report the finding to the CA board. The third is to 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 complaints.”
Mr Pye continued: “The fourth item is to 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.”
The hearings panel, which was established by the authority’s audit and governance committee, was made up of three councillors - Cambridge City Council’s Cllr Simon Smith (Lab, Castle), Peterborough City Council’s Cllr Andy Coles (Con, Fletton and Woodston) and Cllr Mark Inskip (Lib Dem, Sutton) - and Mr Pye.
The panel was convened after solicitors concluded a report into the complaints made against Dr Johnson.
It was also recommended that the Combined Authority review and improve the induction process for when new mayors take office, as well as looking at the relevant parts of the constitution for “lessons learnt” and recommend any changes to the authority’s board.
Dr Johnson, who sat alongside his solicitor, read a prepared statement following the decision. It was the first time he had spoken publicly about the investigation.
He said: “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.
“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.”
An emotional Dr Johnson, who won a shock victory over previous Conservative mayor James Palmer in a 2021 election, pointed out that today is a year to the day that 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.
“In truth, it wasn’t always clear that I would be coming back,” he said, adding: “I wanted to [come back] the mind was definitely willing, perhaps the body not so much. That plus a few very well meaning people suggesting stepping away for good might not be such a bad idea, gave me a lot to think about.
“In the end, though, it was an easy choice made even easier with the unwavering support of my family and friends. All of whom know me as someone who doesn’t give up easily, doesn’t walk away from responsibility, and for whom becoming mayor has been one of the proudest achievements of my professional life.
“I came back because also in not doing so would have denied those for whom I caused upset the opportunity to have their say, air their grievance and seek resolution.”
Speaking directly to those who complained about his behaviour, Dr Johnson concluded: “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.”
Following the conclusion of the meeting, Combined Authority chief executive Rob Bridge said: “I want to take this opportunity to apologise to those impacted by this process. The period covered by the investigation was a very difficult time for the authority and anyone who was involved, but I am confident that the authority has learned many lessons from that period and is on a much more stable footing.
“This investigation was an important and necessary process, which has been undertaken with impartiality, professionalism and thoroughness. A formal decision notice will be published within the next five working days
“I will not be commenting further on the investigation or the panel hearing at this time.”