The council stands accused of cronyism following the appointment of the regional director of the London Labour Party Julian Ellerby. He will join the Labour-led south London council as director of campaigns and communications later this year.
John Whelan, leader of Lambeth Conservative Party, told PRWeek: ‘This smacks of cronyism. This is an official party spin-doctor carrying on with his work but being paid for now by the taxpayer. Decisions like this undermine the impartiality of public servants.'
Whelan, who sat on the appointment panel, insisted there was more than one suitable candidate for the job and expressed concern that Ellerby had no local government experience. ‘I know there are councillors who become paid officers but this is a different matter,' he said.
But council leader Steve Reed defended the decision. ‘He has been in charge of campaigning across London so he has a strong background,' said Reed. ‘He was an exceptional candidate and it would have been madness not to appoint him.'
Ellerby will take up the politically restricted post in June when he will have to relinquish all party political campaigning. PRWeek contacted Ellerby but he was unable to comment on the story and did not return any calls.
The post has proved hard to fill following the departure of Louise Ansari to the Council of Europe last autumn (PRWeek 18 August 2006). The first attempt to select a candidate proved unsuccessful. Claire McGill, former deputy head of campaigns and comms left shortly afterwards (PRWeek, 31 January).
Lambeth is recruiting for McGill's replacement. Current interim director is Helen Coleman who has been supplied by the Tribal Group. The comms team currently numbers around 30. Ellerby will report into executive director for strategy and resources Eric Bohl.