Labour accuses Mayor James Palmer of running ‘an old boys club’ over £100k job offer to sitting county councillor and former Tory diplomat

Appointment of Cllr Paul Raynes (top left) to combined authority directorship by Mayor James Palmer

Appointment of Cllr Paul Raynes (top left) to combined authority directorship by Mayor James Palmer (bottom left) and deputy mayor Charles Roberts (bottom right) opposed by Cllr Kevin Price (top right). PHOTO: Archant - Credit: Archant

Mayor James Palmer was accused of running “an old boys club” ollowing my revelation that a Tory county councillor and Cambridge graduate has been offered a £100,000 a year directorship at the combined authority.

The criticism came from Councillor Kevin Price, until last month deputy leader of Labour controlled Cambridge City Council and a member of the combined authority.

Cllr Price sharply rebuked Mayor Palmer for offering the post of strategy and planning director of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to recently elected county councillor Paul Raynes.

The Soham county councillor’s name was put forward by Mayor Palmer and his deputy Cllr Charles Roberts but Cllr Price says he sat on an earlier selection interview that firmly rejected the application by Cllr Raynes.

Cllr Price, who unsuccessfully contested the mayoralty election, said: “In June I was part of a three person panel assessing potential candidates for director level appointments on the combined authority.

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“We interviewed Councillor Raynes. Candidates had - excepting Councillor Raynes - come via a recruitment agency process which had considered their relevant skills and experience for the director level posts in the combined authority.”

Cllr Price said: “After interviewing Councillor Raynes the panel reached the unanimous conclusion that he would not be a suitable candidate and that was our recommendation.

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“It is therefore very surprising that this appointment has now been made. It must also be a concern that once again, the combined authority has made an appointment from the East Cambs area.

“In my view an elected serving member of a constituent authority of the combined authority should not be able to apply for a senior level and politically restricted officer post on that authority.

“ Where that person also has a clear history of involvement at a high level with a political party dating back many years and is the current vice chair of the mayor’s own local Conservative association it is difficult to understand how anyone can have confidence in him in a politically restricted post.”

Cllr Price said the combined authority has Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders and members, as well as some independents “ and it is vital that they can be given, and have trust in, impartial advice by senior officers.

“The mayor already has political advisors, one of whom was at the time of his appointment a serving councillor in East Cambs and who was immediately given a significant pay hike and new job title.

“The combined authority has an important job to do across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough but it is opening itself to the criticism that it is instead fast becoming an old boys club based solely on the whims of a single political party and a single constituent member of the authority. “

Cllr Raynes, a former Parliamentary candidate, does have an impressive CV that includes working at the Treasury, where he was private secretary to three chief secretaries.

He was also financial attaché at the British Embassy in Paris in the run-up to the establishment of the Euro and, as a business journalist. He also set up the policy unit at Essex County Council.

He has also been head of programmes at the Local Government Association where he was responsible for driving the debate on regional economic devolution and originating the concept of Local Enterprise Partnerships.

His job offer is thought to have been made after only a handful of candidates applied for the job – that offers a salary up to a potential £130,000 a year – and his name was put forward by mayor James Palmer and his deputy Councillor Charles Roberts.

The authority is anxious to recruit the staff needed to forge ahead with its ambitious programme – nearly half of the 60 staff currently on the payroll are either consultants, holding interim positions or on secondment.

One member of the combined authority told me tonight: “I wasn’t involved in the process but I understand his name was added at the short listing meeting by the mayor and Cllr Roberts, the East Cambs leader and deputy mayor.”

My source said: “He did not appear to go through the same process as other applicants – and only two were later interviewed by a panel of three, including the mayor and his deputy”.

If confirmed it will mean it is the second time Mayor Palmer has recruited an East Cambridgeshire councillor to a role within the combined authority: last year he took on Tom Hunt as his chief of staff. That also meant a by election.

Cllr Raynes was reluctant to talk about his appointment when I called him at his Isleham home.

The father of four returned a call after I left a voicemail but after accepting a suggestion that I call him back after he complained of a poor signal the phone repeatedly went to voice mail.

When he stood for the Soham North and Isleham division last year he described his wide experience as embracing both business and public service. He is currently a director of a tech company.

Cllr Raynes says he has worked with councils across the country on transport, economic development and planning.

He has also been an adviser to the government on transport issues, and was a member of a government review of public libraries.

A senior Conservative councillor in East Cambridgeshire confirmed to me that he expected Cllr Raynes to resign because of the “politically sensitive” role he had been offered with the combined authority. The councillor said in due course applicants from within the Tory party would be invited to apply for the vacant seat ahead of a by election.

My combined authority source added: “There are definite governance and probity issues about the process.

“Partly because of the holidays, combined authority members only have it second hand and the employment committee has operated without reporting or requiring specific confirmation except statutory posts - other than it would be expected that the appointment would be reported to the next board meeting in mid September.”

On his Linked In profile – a website for professionals – Cllr Raynes describes himself as a “thought leader, influencer and communicator in economic, education, localism and welfare reform issues, with strong senior leadership experience across public and private sectors and broad experience of leading change.

“I’ve influenced policy innovation from Free Schools to City Deals and delivered real-world improvements from better exam results to buzzier libraries.

“I work equally well with Cabinet ministers, frontline professionals, business leaders, journalists and policy wonks.”

Lib Dem Councillor Lucy Nethsingha said: “I have asked for information about how the appointment was made, his salary and his qualifications for this role.”

Mayor Palmer has been asked for a response.

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