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Boris Johnson held back information over Veronica Wadley appointment

Leaked emails challenge mayor of London's insistence that he had delivered 'very full disclosure' in Arts Council row

Boris Johnson held back information that showed his staff discussed a strategy to put the culture secretary "under more pressure to let our appointment stand" after the mayor of London recommended Veronica Wadley for a top London arts job.

Emails have emerged that challenge the mayor's insistence earlier this week that he had delivered "very full disclosure" of correspondence relating to the appointment of the chair of the London Arts Council to give "as full a picture as possible" of events.

Correspondence sent in September between Johnson's private secretary, Roisha Hughes, his cultural adviser, Munira Mirza, and Tom Middleton, a City Hall officer, show a flurry of exchanges while the mayor was waiting to hear whether Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary, would back his recommendation to appoint Veronica Wadley, the former editor of the London Evening Standard, to the job.

Johnson rejected the view of the chair of the Arts Council for England, Liz Forgan, and an independent member of the panel that held the first round of interviews, who claimed Wadley lacked arts credibility – and recommended Wadley for the post at the end of July – just after the parliamentary recess had begun.

In September, Mirza, who is also a member of the board of the London Arts Council, wrote to discuss interim arrangements because the incumbent chair, Lady Hollick, was about to step down from the post after completing two terms and Bradshaw had still not given a verdict on Johnson's recommendation.

In comments that suggest Johnson's team was braced for a veto – which was confirmed in early October – Hughes wrote back to say: "Is it imperative there is a chair in place? We may prefer to keep the pressure up by keeping the position empty."

Mirza replied: "Fair point. Let's see what happens." A further contribution was made by Middleton: "I agree with Roisha that not having a chair in place will put the DCMS [Department of Culture, Media and Sport] under more pressure to let our appointment stand."

The next month, Bradshaw wrote to Johnson to say he had rejected the recommendations on the grounds that the selection process was believed to have breached two of the Nolan principles which protect public appointments from political interference – prompting charges of cronyism against Johnson.

The leaked emails sent by Johnson's staff were not included in either bundles of documentation published at two intervals by the mayor following a request from Len Duvall, the Labour group leader on the London assembly, for "all GLA correspondence (written and digital) relating to the appointment of chair of the arts council in London", on 9 October.

Johnson told Duvall on 30 October that his request was being treated as a formal request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Hundreds of pages were released under the FoI at the end of last week. Duvall then asked the mayor to clarify what information had been excluded. He also requested "as an assembly member ... information I am entitled to in order to carry out my [scrutiny] function as an elected member of the assembly".

The mayor replied, saying that "in due course it will need to be determined whether or not there is any confidential information you are entitled to see in private in this basis".

He included the release of further correspondence to "provide as full a picture as possible" to the London assembly, which is the cross-party elected scrutiny body which holds the mayor to account.

Johnson explained: "I have gone further than I implied in my letter of 27 November in that I have, in the public interest, released correspondence from the Arts Council and the DCMS so as to provide you and your fellow assembly members with as full a picture as possible. I am sure you will agree that a response of 580 sides of A4 indicates very full disclosure."

Johnson went on to bullet-point five criteria for exemption, including "a very limited number of email exchanges and drafts of documents whose disclosure I have deemed would have been prejudicial to the effective conductive of public affairs".

The probe over events that led to Johnson choosing Wadley for the role continues, with two letters due to be dispatched to seek clarification around the selection process due to differing accounts issued to date.

Dee Doocey, chair of the assembly's economic development, culture, sports and tourism committee, is set to seek clarification from Mirza over evidence she gave to the committee in October.

Doocey will also write to City Hall's chief executive, Leo Boland, to ask him to clarify how the second process will be run, following Johnson's decision to readvertise the post rather than select one of the three candidates who were put on the final shortlist.

The timetable for interviews outlined by Johnson now means that he is unlikely to make a recommendation to the culture secretary until late March at the earliest, just weeks before the general election.

It is unclear whether Wadley intends to apply again. The Guardian has approached her for comment.

Liz Forgan is also the chair of the Scott Trust, the parent body that controls Guardian News and Media.

Read more on this issue on Dave Hill's London blog

Veronica Wadley - yet more mail

Veronica Wadley: Six days in July


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