Deputy leader replaced on board of council’s arms length property company This Land without having attended a single meeting
PUBLISHED: 16:49 23 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:49 23 June 2020
A political appointment will be made to the board of Cambridgeshire County Council’s arms-length property company after more than a year of delay and confusion.
Cllr Josh Shumann will represent the council as a non-executive director on the board of This Land Ltd, for which the county council is the sole shareholder, following a decision by the commercial and investment committee on Friday (June 19).
The decision will see the council’s deputy chief executive and chief financial officer, Chris Malyon, step down from the role of non-executive director after “candid” legal advice about “the potential conflicts that arise as a result” of his holding those positions simultaneously.
The council can have two representatives on the board.
The council will have one political representative and one apolitical representative – Steve Cox, executive director for place and economy – on the board.
Deputy leader Cllr Roger Hickford was nominated by the council to be its political representative on the company’s board in 2018 and was expected to take over from Mr Malyon.
But Cllr Hickford never took up the position and never attended a board meeting.
Despite this, a county council document from May 2019 described Cllr Hickford as “one of two non-executive directors on this board”.
The same report “by representative Councillor Hickford” outlined how This Land had acquired 24 sites from the county council for £67million. The report says: “The acquisitions were financed through loans from Cambridgeshire County Council.”
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The Cambs Times reported on the apparent disparity in July 2019 and, referencing information it said was provided by a county council spokesperson, said that Cllr Hickford did not take up the appointment for health grounds and “that Cllr Hickford had stood down temporarily from the board pending an audit investigation into his acquisition of a county council farms estate tenancy at Girton”.
The Cambs Times quoted a council spokesperson as saying: “An annual update to council from appointees to outside bodies is made to council each May – these are presented to council by members not officers, so Chris Malyon, prepared the update, for our nominated appointee to report to council.”
When asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service the county council denied there had been any impediment to Cllr Hickford taking up the position on the board relating to his farm estate tenancy.
A report on the internal investigation into Cllr Hickford’s farm tenancy has not yet reported.
A county council report says that now that Cllr Hickford is due to take on additional responsibilities as co-chairman of the health and wellbeing board, lead member on the member engagement board, and replace councillor Ian Bates on the Greater Cambridge Partnership, he “no longer has the capacity to sit on the board of This Land”.
It says that owing to Cllr Hickford’s new commitments Cllr Shumann will now take up the position, as he no longer chairs the commercial and investment committee.
Addressing the council’s commercial investment committee on June 19, Mr Malyon said: “Steve Cox [the county council’s executive director for place and economy] and I both act as shareholder representatives on the board and members of the committee will know that the advice that we have received, on two occasions now from external legal support is – they have been quite candid – in my statutory role as Section 151 officer to the council there is a risk that I would be conflicted in sitting on the board.
“Although we have taken steps to mitigate that in terms of the activities of this committee by me stepping down from any issues associated with the loan structures and sale of any properties to This Land, it does put Tom Kelly, who is my deputy Section 151 officer, in a difficult position because he reports to me and I sit on the board of the company.
“So, we have always had in mind – and have agreed – that I would step down and a political representative would then be appointed by the committee.
“Initially that was Cllr Hickford, but as the report has highlighted, because of the additional functions and responsibilities that Cllr Hickford has taken on, he currently doesn’t have the capacity to fulfil that role.” He never attended a This Land meeting.
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