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Leaked letter reveals chiefs' concerns over CA's leadership

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Senior leadership at the Cambridge & Peterborough CA has been criticised by all but one of the area’s council chief executives in an excoriating joint letter subsequently leaked to LGC.

The letter to former chief executive Martin Whiteley and monitoring officer Kim Sawyer, dated 24 August, a copy of which has been seen by LGC, cited an “increasing concern” over an apparent lack of compliance with due process and a number of constitutional concerns regarding communication and decision-making.

Signatories of the Cambridgeshire Public Sector Board’s letter include the body’s chair Joanne Lancaster, who is also Huntingdonshire DC’s managing director, Cambridgeshire CC and Peterborough City Council chief executive Gillian Beasley, Cambridge City Council chief executive Antoinette Jackson, South Cambridgeshire DC chief executive Beverly Agass and Fenland DC chief executive Paul Medd. Senior figures from the region’s police, fire and health services also signed the letter along with Rachel Stopard, chief executive of the Greater Cambridge Partnership. 

From a local authority perspective only East Cambridgeshire DC chief executive John Hill, who has since been appointed joint interim chief executive of the CA alongside Ms Sawyer, did not sign the letter.

LGC understands that since the letter was received, the signatories have not been invited to any subsequent meetings involving council leaders at the CA.

Some of the main issues referenced in the letter include:

  • Concerns that decisions are being made which “do not align with the requirements of the CA Constitution”
  • Concerns that reports are “often framed in terms of what the mayor wishes”, when James Palmer (Con) is “not the decision maker” at the CA
  • “Limited or incomplete information” being provided to chief executives on a number of major items
  • Decisions are being made on important issues before Leaders have been allowed time to understand recommendations
  • Decisions over the allocation of funding being made without the agreement of criteria to guide those decisions

Responding to the publication of the letter, the joint chief executives of the CA said they “agreed that the issues raised in the letter will be considered in the imminent review of the combined authority”.

“We intend to continue the dialogue and to work constructively in the future in delivering the very ambitious agenda for our area,” they said in a joint statement. 

The mayor’s office was also contacted for comment.

The letter was written only a few days before Mr Whiteley left the authority, receiving what Mr Palmer described as a “substantial severance payment” at a meeting of the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee.

Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem), chair of the overview and scrutiny committee, said Mr Whiteley’s departure remained “shrouded in mystery” and added the concerns outlined in the Cambridgeshire Public Sector Board’s letter still remained pertinent today.

“[Last week] the mayor seems to have shared the results of a combined authority consultant’s report with a public meeting, and then with the press, before any of the board members have been given the opportunity to read the consultant’s report,” she said.

Lewis Herbert (Lab), leader of Cambridge City Council, told LGC he thought “every point” in [the letter] remained valid today, while he understood the views of the chief executives “hasn’t changed”.

Cllr Herbert also said the CA’s transport policy had returned in line with the Cambridge City Deal, having raised concerns over the mayor’s policies in June.

Housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire wrote to the combined authority and the Greater Cambridge Partnership in June, urging local leaders to improve their collaborative working. Mr Brokenshire said at the time that the next tranche of funding for the city deal, worth up to £400m, was “not guaranteed” and remained dependent on the government’s “confidence in the effective collaboration and delivery capability of local partners”.

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