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Call for urgent combined authority governance review voted down

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A motion calling for an urgent independent review of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough CA due to concerns over its governance, transparency and effectiveness has been voted down.

At a crunch meeting of the CA yesterday, the motion brought by Cambridge City Council leader Lewis Herbert (Lab) and South Cambridgeshire DC leader Bridget Smith (Lib Dem) was rejected by all five Conservative-led council representatives in the region.

Cllrs Herbert and Smith have raised a series of concerns about how the combined authority is operating under mayor James Palmer (Con).

The pair have asked for clarification on the sudden departure of chief executive Martin Whiteley last month. Mr Palmer claims Mr Whitely resigned but the two leaders believe he was sacked by the mayor. That would be in breach of the CA’s constitution which requires the majority backing of constituent councils for such a move.

Cllrs Herbert and Smith also opposed the mayor’s proposal, approved during yesterday’s meeting, to appoint CA monitoring officer Kim Sawyer and East Cambridgeshire DC chief executive John Hill as joint interim chief executives rather than recruit an individual on a permanent basis. Ms Sawyer will be head of paid service under the arrangement.

Mr Palmer was previously leader of East Cambridgeshire and Mr Hill was seconded to the CA earlier this month following Mr Whiteley’s departure.

The joint chief executives, who will be in post until March 2019 or until a permanent appointment is made, will lead a review of the “operation and staffing” of the CA “to ensure it is fit for purpose”.

A spokesperson for the mayor said the CA would seek to recruit a permanent, single chief executive in a “timely way”.

Concerns have also been expressed about other senior CA management positions without permanent appointments, including chief finance officer and director of infrastructure and transport.

At yesterday’s meeting Karl Fenlon was appointed interim chief finance officer and Patrick Arran interim monitoring officer.

Following yesterday’s meeting Cllr Herbert told LGC that there must be a “radical change” at the combined authority, including efforts to recruit the “right” permanent senior team to drive forward strategy.

He added having two interim chief executives could cause confusion over their specific roles.

Last month questions were raised about the appointment of Conservative county councillor Paul Raynes as the CA’s director of strategy and planning despite not being considered suitable for the role by a panel early in the recruitment process. In a statement the CA said Cllr Raynes, who will be required to stand down as a councillor, was appointed “following a rigorous process, in accordance with the requirements of both our constitution and our employment committee”.

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