Guildford Borough Council’s leader faced a no-confidence vote recently when Conservative members called for her “immediate resignation”.
Waverley & Guildford Councils work collaboratively, and Waverley’s Chief Executive, Tom Horwood, is currently the CEO of both authorities. He recently resigned and leaves in February.
Was it the same Conservative members that created the fine mess that the authority found itself in when the Lib Dems took over?
The motion claimed Liberal Democrat Julia McShane was “deeply associated” with the “debacles” in the authority’s housing department.
The council narrowly avoided issuing a section 114 notice recently, declaring itself bankrupt, although a review of its finances uncovered more issues.
Guildford’s council leader has survived the no-confidence vote brought by councillors who claimed she was also “deeply associated” with “almost certainly the worst [financial scandals in the history of Guildford Borough Council”.
Other councillors defended the leader, claiming there was “an underlying tone of arrogance” to the motion to oust her.
Cllr Julia McShane, who was re-elected as the council’s leader following the Lib Dems election victory in May, first became leader in October 2022 under the previous coalition administration.
The Westborough councillor’s leadership was called into question by Conservative councillors, who claimed she had “presided over two major financial scandals”.
Cllr Philip Brooker (Conservative, Worplesdon) pointed to accounting errors at the council and an overspend in the housing department.
He told the meeting: “These are almost certainly the worst financial scandals in the history of Guildford Borough Council. It has been reported that since 2021, millions have been spent over budget. Neither the contract management, financial officers, nor the portfolio holder in charge, who was, and still is, the current leader even noticed. Absolutely staggering.
“But not only has the leader been practically silent about these major scandals, she has been virtually silent about almost everything.
“I was elected to this chamber five months ago, and I’ve yet to hear her make a major statement or even outline her vision and priorities.”
But other councillors defended the leader from her party and others.
Labour’s group leader, James Walsh (Bellfields & Slyfield), said he did not like the “tone and tenor” of comments in the motion.
His group voted against the no-confidence motion, and Cllr Walsh said: “Our priority beyond individual party affiliations should be to use our collective skills, knowledge and experience to help get this council back on track.
“If we fail, and we fail because we’re too busy playing politics, then our residents will not forgive us, and rightfully so.”
The Guildford Greenbelt Group abstained, with 24 councillors voting against it and 15 voting in favour.
The council’s deputy leader, Cllr Tom Hunt (Lib Dem, St Nicolas), defended the leader. He also said there was “an underlying tone of arrogance” to the motion, reminding the meeting only five months previously that Cllr McShane had been re-elected as leader.
He said: “Since then, as we all know, the council has had to deal with several challenges.
“Cllr McShane is not the architect of these challenges but instead is leading the council in dealing with them.
“Hold her to account on how she, and by extension this administration, deals with the challenges, not on the fact that issues have arisen.”
She was described by Lib Dem colleagues as “honest, real and true”, as someone who “doesn’t throw her toys out the pram” and “their best asset”.
But councillors from the Residents for Guildford and Villages Party (R4GV), who shared the council’s leadership with the Lib Dems between 2019 and May’s local elections, supported the motion.
The former leader, Cllr Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Merrow), said the Executive needed “to do something radical to reset this administration”.
He called for councillors from other parties to be invited to join the council’s Executive Committee, saying councillors would “re-engage with any administration if they were convinced it would be an honest, two-way relationship”.
Although he said it was a “stretch” to blame Cllr McShane or any individual or administration for the issues the council was facing, he highlighted “worrying trends” in the administration of “insecurity, paranoia, and secrecy”.
Cllr Bigmore said: “No confidence votes are invariably seen as personal.
“Whilst the leader bears ultimate accountability, leadership is a team effort.
“Rather than singling out Cllr McShane, this vote should be seen in that context.”
He and other members of the R4GV group supported the motion.
Cllr McShane thanked councillors and those who had contacted her to offer support.
She added that the Lib Dem councillors had been given a “clear mandate” in May’s elections to get the council’s finances in order and make the borough “a fairer, greener and thriving place to live and work for all our communities”.
Cllr McShane added: “We are delivering on that mandate and, although we will always listen to constructive criticism, we will not allow ourselves to be distracted from our determined focus on prioritising what is right for the residents whom the council exists to serve.”