Susan van de Ven

Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Bassingbourn, Melbourn, Meldreth and Whaddon Learn more

Investigation finds former deputy leader of council breached code of conduct

by Susan van de Ven on 26 February, 2022

25 February 2022 – Statement by Cambridgeshire County Council:

An independent investigation has concluded that former Cambridgeshire County Council deputy leader Roger Hickford breached the Council’s Code of Conduct in six different areas (as per para 1.10) – including bullying, improper use of his position and bringing the council into disrepute.

The report by Wilkin Chapman Investigating solicitors (link to the report here) was considered by the council’s Constitution and Ethics Committee today (Feb 25th) who voted to put it all into the public domain. [Link to recording of meeting here.]

The investigation made an initial finding that Roger Hickford was acting in his official capacity when dealing with officers in respect of the tenancy at Manor Farm, Girton.

The full list of breaches are in respect of;

  • Respect– he failed to treat Officers and others acting on behalf of the Council with respect;
  • Bullying – he used a bullying manner in order for the Council to pay for works that would otherwise be the responsibility of the tenant. He also used a bullying manner in order to set the terms of the lease for Manor Farm;
  • Impartiality – he compromised Officers and others’ impartiality in his dealings with regard to Manor Farm;
  • Disrepute – his conduct towards Officers and others and his conflict of interest would have reduced the public’s confidence in him being able to fulfil his role or the Council being able to discharge its functions;
  • Improper use of position – he used his position as Deputy Leader to receive concessions that the Council would not otherwise have agreed to;
  • Interests – he failed to register a disclosable pecuniary interest (the tenancy of Manor Farm) within 28 days and he failed to declare a non-statutory disclosable interest in meetings with regard to County Farms matters.

However, the investigation found he did not breach paragraph 5.1(a) of the code, in respect of Misuse of Council Resources.

Commenting on the findings, Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, said: “As Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council since May I am determined that we will root out disrespectful or bullying behaviour, whoever is responsible, and with that in mind will be asking our new Chief Executive to undertake a wider review of member – officer behaviour, and our support for council officers at all levels across the Council.”

Having accepted the report in full the committee also unanimously agreed a recommendation proposed by Cllr Lorna Dupre and seconded by Cllr David Ambrose Smith that it should be a cross council priority to address the issues raised in the report, that it be referred to Strategy and Resources committee with a request they establish programme of action to resolve and prevent an occurrence, and to Full Council if appropriate.

The recommendation also included taking up the issue with colleagues in councils across Cambridgeshire to improve standards of behaviour in public life more widely.

The investigation into code of conduct issues was an outcome of last year’s audit into the process leading up to the award of the tenancy of Manor Farm, Girton, the subsequent decisions made regarding the tenancy and the processes and practices of the County’s Farms Estate.

The audit concluded correct procedures were followed in relation to the tenancy award process and approval process for potential additional extension works. But eleven further serious concerns were raised in relation to financial, transparency and conduct issues which the Audit and Accounts committee agreed should be referred on for further consideration under other processes, which included the Members Code of Conduct procedures.

Recommendations relating to the Farm’s Process Audit are complete.

Ends

Statement from Cllr Sebastian Kindersley, Chairman of Constitution and Ethics Committee

It gives me no pleasure receive this full and very detailed independent report into the conduct of a former councillor of this authority – however it is right and proper to have commissioned it, and to put it fully into the public domain today.

Former councillor and deputy leader of this authority Roger Hickford has been found to have breached the Council’s Code of Conduct in seven different areas

In doing so he has not only damaged his own reputation but has cast doubt on the integrity of elected Members in general, which is inexcusable.

Residents have a right to expect those who stand for election to public office do so out of a desire to serve others, not to serve themselves.

This investigation found Mr Hickford’s behaviour fell far below the standards expected for those in public life.

One of the first actions of this council took last July, was for our Audit and Accounts committee to receive and approve a strengthened whistleblowing procedure, new conflict of interest guidance for Members having interactions with council services, and an update on enhanced Member training.

In addition the council’s Respect @Work policy was revised with the support of our Equality and Diversity group and recognised trade unions, and agreed by our Staffing and Appeals Committee in September. Much work has been undertaken to publicise it including workshops for staff.

It is essential that the Council keeps all these measures under regular review in the light of this report to ensure that they go far enough to offer the necessary safeguards to guard against this situation ever happening again.

I would like to pay tribute to those officers who have worked so diligently to bring this report together in a legal and proper way, and to those councillors at whose insistence it was begun.

Ends

Statement from: Stephen Moir, Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire County Council

It is a matter of deep regret that anyone has had to experience the type of behaviours outlined in this report. As Chief Executive I want to offer an apology both personally and on behalf of the organisation to colleagues past and present that may have been affected.

The people who work for the Council have the right to feel safe and supported in their work. They should be able to raise concerns about the conduct of officers or elected members, no matter how senior they are, and know that they will be heard. However, it is not enough to know that concerns will be heard, it is just as important that any issues are then properly dealt with.

Having joined the authority this week, it is a priority for me to ensure this is clearly understood by everyone the council employs.

I want to assure myself that the protection and support arrangements which already exist, such as our Respect at Work policy and whistleblowing procedures, go far enough. I understand these have been recently revised and strengthened, nevertheless I will personally review these and ensure that all colleagues, whether elected or employed, are fully aware of them.

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