Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s directly-elected mayor broke rules around civility and disrepute, an independent investigation has found. 

Dr Nik Johnson, head of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA), was deemed to have breached the organisation’s code of conduct at a hearing on November 14, held largely in private. 

But a decision notice, published today (November 22), sheds further light on the allegations made against him and a particular ex-employee who left the CPCA before the investigation began. 

The notice says that a complainant alleged a “toxic culture” at the CPCA as well as bullying, particularly of a senior officer and its former CEO. 

Dr Johnson was cleared of bullying by investigators; much of this appears to have “emanated” from the ex-employee, the report says, although they were not officially the subject of the investigation. 

But it’s “implausible” that the mayor was not aware of the latter’s behaviour as he claimed, it continues, and his failure to intervene “amounted to him condoning such behaviour”. 

It’s known, for instance, that Dr Johnson received a warning about it before the first official complaint was made in which the ex-employee was described as a “henchman”.

Witnesses were therefore entitled to “conclude that the Mayor was aware of and potentially even supportive of or directing the ex-employee’s behaviour, or was behaving in such a way himself”, the report goes on. 

It also says that, while his own treatment of a particular member of staff was not serious enough to warrant a breach of the code of conduct, this doesn’t mean his actions were necessarily “acceptable”. 

Dr Johnson should have called out the ex-employee for discussing confidential HR activity over WhatsApp, the report says, with failure to do so showing a “lack of respect and leadership”. 

Because of this, and his lack of intervention more generally, he was found to have breached the CPCA’s code of conduct and brought himself into disrepute. 

Other allegations, detailed in three separate complaints made in October 2021, April 2022 and May 2022, included claims that an employee was asked to attend a partisan (Labour) event, that officers’ decisions were deliberately undermined under Dr Johnson and that there was an attempt to damage officers’ reputation by leaking a confidential report to a journalist. 

The investigation found no evidence that the mayor personally leaked this report, although he spoke to a journalist “contrary to advice” while clearly “unhappy” that an ex-employee had been let go from the organisation. 

His methods “may not always have been appropriate”, but he was free to challenge this, the report says. 

Dr Johnson was also found not to have breached GDPR data protection rules despite sending an ex-worker’s CV to his personal email. He was not found to have breached the CPCA’s code of conduct in relation to the other allegations within the report. 

The outcome of the investigation was that Dr Johnson was asked to issue an apology for his behaviour and to undertake appropriate training. 

“I regret having been a cause of upset and apologise unreservedly to those for whom I gave reason to complain,” he said in his public apology statement. “I am sorry, and I’ve wanted to say so for ages. I wish I knew then what I know now.”

He also said that the CPCA is “so much better in every conceivable way” now than it was when the complaints were made. 

But the matter is not completely closed now as the organisation’s board must also consider the findings. This will take place on 29th November.