OPINION: Camden councillor must resign over CS11 conflict of interest

Jessica Learmond-Criqui

Jessica Learmond-Criqui - Credit: Archant

From Phil Jones’s point of view, the ethical standards, contained in the Nolan principles, by which councillors and cabinet members are judged need to be applied with the utmost rigour. Not only must there not be a conflict of interest, there must not be the appearance or perception of a conflict of interest.

The situation in which Phil now finds himself is that he is on a shortlist of three councillors for the job of cycling and walking commissioner at this sensitive time in CS11’s evolution. If he succeeds in being appointed to the commissioner’s position, his pay will increase from £25,608 to potentially £98,000.

As a cabinet member for transport and the only person in charge of deciding whether or not CS11 gets the go ahead from Camden’s perspective, his first priority must be what is in the best interests of the borough. This includes taking into account residents’ interests.

However, his shortlisted status may lead to the perception that his personal interest in getting the commissioner’s job may demand that he is seen to push CS11 through despite residents’ best interests in order to impress his future pay masters.

TfL has said they will announce their decision this month. Given the shortlist, the new commissioner may well be selected by the end of the year too. TfL cannot put in CS11 without Camden’s agreement to the scheme. The confluence of timing of both events is extraordinary.

The public’s perception in this situation may now be that Phil’s personal self interest in getting this job may mean that he must push CS11 and other cycle lane schemes through to demonstrate that he has what it takes to deal with recalcitrant residents no matter what the objections of those who are able and those who are less able.

At present, the cries of the blind and elderly against the Tavistock Place cycle lanes go unheeded while the voices of those who do not live in the area gain a disproportionate volume. How can Phil maximise the attraction of his CV if it is not by pushing through cycle lane after cycle lane irrespective of the efficacy or viability of such schemes?

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If Phil does sign CS11 off and gets the cycling commissioner’s job, how can he and Mayor Khan avoid a charge of unfair inducement?

Oh – and guess what – if Phil does sign off CS11, there is a 33.33per cent chance that he won’t be in his current post to deal with the consequences, the fallout and the sheer unworkability of this scheme, particularly with HS2 coming hard on CS11’s heels.

The perception would remain that he would have feathered his own nest at the expense of residents and will then disappear so that he will not have to hear the cries of anguish and pain from those in north west London and beyond.

We don’t yet know Phil’s final decision and if he rejects CS11, then of course any fears may well be unfounded. But, what if he does push it through?

At the very least, Phil should relinquish his portfolio for transport and CS11 while his future job prospects are being discussed. At the very best, all discussions on CS11 should cease and be shelved indefinitely given the stain this situation may bring on Mayor Khan’s term in office.

From Mayor Khan’s perspective, he must be aware that there is a risk of a public perception being created that by tantalisingly dangling this plum job in front of the nose of a key councillor during deliberations of a scheme such as CS11, which is deeply divisive and sensitive in our community, he may be seen to be creating an environment where his wishes may be favoured over the best interests of residents. If Phil did not sign off CS11, Mayor Khan’s ambitions will be thwarted.

Given the current leverage which Mayor Khan holds over Phil, how can Phil say no? Herein lies the dilemma and hence the conflict of interest.

Mayor Khan has impatiently and openly announced his support for CS11 on a number of occasions even before TfL’s consultations and deliberations are unfinished. He has made no bones about the fact that his mind is already made up. While residents’ deep concerns about increased pollution and congestion in their neighbourhoods are pushed aside like so many matchsticks before a juggernaut, there is a perception that jobs are being lined up behind closed doors to seal Mayor Khan’s deal.

All further deliberations on CS11 by TfL should be halted with immediate effect.

Phil may well argue that there is no conflict of interest with his shortlisted status. But, certain actions create certain perceptions. Once the perception exists then it becomes legitimate for those who feel uneasy with the perception to call on Phil to recuse himself or involve others in the decision who are not blighted by a negative public perception of their motives.