A senior director at Lothian Buses has attacked city transport leader Lesley Hinds’ role in the boardroom row at the company, claiming she has breached standards rules for councillors.
Non-executive director Marjory Rodger said Councillor Hinds “has broken rules of governance, breached the code of conduct and overstepped her authority” in representing the city as the transport firm’s primary shareholder.
Ms Rodger claims that Cllr Hinds personally intervened to ensure that Lothian Buses chief executive Ian Craig was allowed to serve out his 12-month notice period despite the rest of the board calling for his immediate dismissal.
And it has emerged that former chairwoman Ann Faulds, who resigned after her recommendation to sack Mr Craig was rejected by the council, has threatened to take legal action if efforts are made to discredit her over the dispute.
All four of the firm’s top executives are set to leave in a boardroom clear-out following a bitter row which saw Mr Craig investigated following a complaint from his three deputies.
The dramatic intervention by Ms Rodger will add to Cllr Hinds’ woes, as she faces a 1600-strong petition by Lothian Buses staff calling for her removal from the transport convener role, and demands from opposition councillors for an official report into the city’s handling of the six-month saga.
A second petition is also understood to have been signed by 90 per cent of staff at the Lothian Buses HQ in Annandale Street, demanding Mr Craig leave the firm immediately.
A spokesman for Lothian Buses confirmed that new chairman Tony Depledge was aware of the petition.
City officials today hit back at the criticisms, promising to issue a detailed account of how the dispute was dealt with, and asking Mr Depledge what action he will take in response to boardroom leaks.
But Ms Rodger’s statement will raise the temperature ahead of tomorrow’s meeting of the Lothian Buses board, the first since the departure of all four executives was decided.
In a letter to the board, Ms Rodger says the “deep schism in the executive director team” has been known to the city transport chiefs and company insiders “for years”.
She claims that mediation efforts “failed due to breaches of trust in the process by Ian Craig and Cllr Lesley Hinds”, and alleges that when Ms Faulds’ request to sack Mr Craig was submitted, the transport convener “refused permission despite the fact that she has read none of the evidence – and still maintains she has not read it”.
Ms Rodger continues: “I wrote formally to [council chief executive] Dame Sue Bruce seeking enlightenment as to why the former chair’s decision had been rejected, and eventually received a reply which shed no light on the refusal.”
Ms Rodger’s letter concludes: “The worst thing I could do for the company is to assist in any way with appearing to support any decision which I believe to be fundamentally wrong for Lothian Buses.
“Cllr Hinds has broken rules of governance, breached the code of conduct and overstepped her authority.”
In December, Ms Faulds also complained that she did not know why her call for Mr Craig to be sacked was rejected.
In a statement sent to the Lothian Buses board on December 16, which has just come to light, Ms Faulds wrote: “I do not know what process was followed by the majority shareholder [the city council] in reaching its decision not to grant consent.
“Nor do I know the reasons for refusal, or what factors were taken into account or what weight was placed on which considerations.”
The former chairwoman claimed that she felt forced to “defend my professional reputation” and warned that if her actions were publicly questioned, she would “consider all legal remedies open to me”.
The Evening News understands that Ms Faulds, who is a partner at global law firm CMS, remains willing to act on her ultimatum if she feels her reputation is threatened in public, particularly at this week’s board meeting.
A motion calling for a report to councillors on the city’s handling of the Lothian Buses saga will be debated at a full council meeting tomorrow.
Councillor Jason Rust, who lodged the motion, said Ms Rodger’s comments make an official probe even more urgent.
He said: “It is saddening when a non-executive director who one would assume has the best interests of the company and staff at heart feels this way.
“The administration need to listen and bring forward a report into this matter. There is such a lack of trust and so many versions of events that clarity and transparency is desperately needed, both for the credibility of this council and importantly for the future success of the company.”
An amendment to Cllr Rust’s motion will be lodged by the city administration at the full council meeting, agreeing to produce a report but rejecting any blame.
A council spokeswoman said: “We are fully satisfied that the appropriate governance process has been followed from the outset and that the council’s position has been both collective and consistent throughout.”
In relation to the eventual decision to remove Mr Craig but grant him his notice period, the spokeswoman said: “The council agreed this request with some provisos in relation to further consents to earlier termination or material changes to roles and responsibilities – for example, gardening leave.
“We continue to support Tony Depledge and are confident that the strategy which the board unanimously approved and is now pursuing will help the company move on positively and constructively.
“Tony is currently reviewing Lothian Buses senior management and we are looking forward to hearing the results of that review.”
Crunch meetings to provide fresh plot twist
TOMORROW promises to provide a new twist in the six-month Lothian Buses saga, with crunch meetings of the council and the bus firm’s board both scheduled.
A petition calling for Lesley Hinds’ removal as transport leader will also be heard.
All four Lothian Buses executives have been put on notice and will leave the company over the next two years. Details of how long they will remain or what pay-off they may receive have not been released, but Tony Depledge has insisted his plan involved proper “succession planning” to ensure the company remains stable.
The saga began when three executives lodged a grievance against chief executive Ian Craig, alleging that he undermined them and took decisions on hiring, firing and spending without proper consultation.
An investigation conducted by non-executive director and former civil servant John Martin upheld five of the eight complaints, but when then-chairwoman Ann Faulds recommended Ian Craig’s dismissal, the council withheld its support and she resigned.