Combined authority agrees to external audit amidst claim of the organisation being in ‘chaos’ following sacking of latest chief finance officer

PUBLISHED: 14:19 12 December 2018 | UPDATED: 14:33 12 December 2018

An external audit will look at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority that is headed by Mayor James Palmer. Picture: RMG

An external audit will look at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority that is headed by Mayor James Palmer. Picture: RMG

Richard Marsham - RMG Photography Tel - 07798 758711

External auditors are to be called in to examine the workings of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority following the sacking of the chief financial officer and amid claims the organisation is in chaos.

Councillors hope that the audit will shine a spotlight on the accounts and spending of the combined authority, which oversees major housing and transport projects across the county.

On November 30, Karl Fenlon, the chief financial officer was officially “dismissed”, making him the fourth chief financial officer to leave the authority since it was set up in 2017.

Cllr Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council and investment and finance portfolio holder at the combined authority told a meeting of the full county council that there was to be an external review into the finances of the combined authority.

Cllr Count was responding to questions from Lib Dem Cambridge City Councillor Rod Cantrill, who said the authority was in “chaos” after losing four chief financial officers.

Cllr Count said Mr Fenlon’s departure had been “abrupt” but said the organisation was “hardly in chaos”. He said that, in the spirit of accountability and transparency, the authority had committed to an external review, as well as an on-going internal review which has been going since September.

It is hoped auditors will be appointed soon, and findings can be presented to the authority’s board in the New Year.

Mayor James Palmer said: “Following the departure of the interim chief financial officer I have decided it is prudent in the circumstances to seek an independent review of the budget of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to ensure there is confidence in the work that took place during his time at the authority, especially the preparation of the medium term financial strategy.

“We will move quickly to appoint external auditors to carry out that review immediately, which will be delivered and presented to the combined authority board in the New Year, giving us an independent check and balance on our financial position.”

Mr Palmer said there have “understandably been questions” surrounding the budget position since the departure of Mr Fenlon.

“I believe we now need clarity around the assumptions and narrative of the recently-agreed four-year medium term financial strategy, presented by the former interim CFO at the overview and scrutiny committee meeting in November,” said Mr Palmer. “We expect this review to confirm there is a fully balanced budget in line with proper regulation.

Mr Palmer said the external financial report will complement the “more thorough review work” that has been ongoing internally at the combined authority since September and which commenced soon after the departure of the former chief executive.

The current internal review is being led by joint interim chief executive John Hill, who is sharing the role with Kim Sawyer. The review includes looking at the budget, staffing, performance management, and governance processes.

“This is a sensible and needed measure,” said Mr Palmer. “That review is already delivering results and the combined authority has so far implemented changes to performance reporting, project management and reporting and budgeting.

“The balanced four-year medium term financial strategy was also one of the key improvements that have come from the joint interim chief executive’s ongoing review.

“Be assured that nothing is on hold while both of these reviews are being carried out and our work on delivering on our transformational agenda for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough continues at pace.”

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