THE London-based chairman of Lothian Buses is to lose his job amid concerns that he had “no feel” for the Capital.
Chris Walton’s appointment in March 2011 to lead the council-owned bus firm sparked a major controversy when it was revealed he lived 400 miles away and was only obliged to be in Edinburgh for seven board meetings a year.
The former easyJet boss, who has dual Australian and British citizenship, is paid £24,000 a year – meaning he picks up almost £3500 for every meeting.
Now the council has decided not to renew his contract when it expires in May next year.
Instead, a new chairman will be chosen from one of three new non-executive directors being recruited to Lothian Buses and the umbrella body Transport for Edinburgh.
City transport convener Lesley Hinds said: “We are moving forward into a new era of public transport in the city, so we are looking for a new chair for Lothian Buses.
“I want to thank Chris Walton for the work he has done over the past three years.”
He took over as chairman after the dramatic departure of his predecessor, David Mackay, who quit the combined chairmanship of Lothian Buses, tram firm TIE and Transport Edinburgh Limited, describing the tram project as “hell on wheels”.
At the time, Labour councillors voiced “significant concerns” about the choice of someone who lived in London. But Mr Walton, who estimated he was on the move about one-third of the time, promised he would spend “as much time as it needs” in Edinburgh.
Gordon Mackenzie, who was transport convener in the Liberal Democrat-SNP coalition, insisted he had no concerns about Mr Walton being based in London.
But a senior council source said today: “He lives in London and he’s not here that often. He didn’t have any real feel for the city – how could you have if you’re not really based here? He was always in London or travelling all over the world.”
The source said Mr Walton had hardly ever met the unions at Lothian Buses and his first meeting with council leader Andrew Burns was just a few weeks ago.
Mr Walton, 55, was the finance director of easyJet for six years and he has also held senior executive positions with both Qantas and Air New Zealand.
Tory transport spokeswoman Joanna Mowat backed the decision not to renew Mr Walton’s contract.
“It’s not any slight on him personally, but I think there is a recognition the situation is going to be fast-moving and when you are trying to integrate a bus company and a tram company it makes sense to have someone who is more on site.”
Mr Walton was not available for comment.