Councillors vow to continue probe after it’s revealed Mayor James consulted no one before agreeing £94,000 pay-off to former chief executive

Mayor James Palmer and chief executive Martin Whiteley, photographed after the appointment of the la

Mayor James Palmer and chief executive Martin Whiteley, photographed after the appointment of the latter in 2017. Mr Whiteley has since left £182,000 a year post with a £94,000 pay-off. - Credit: Archant

A “huge” £94,500 financial settlement was agreed for a combined authority boss who resigned his post, despite no one on the board being consulted.

Last week, it was revealed that the former chief executive of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, the body overseeing major housing and transport schemes like the Cambridge metro, was paid a staggering £94,500 when he left the job, despite not serving out any notice period.

In August, it emerged that Martin Whiteley left his £182,000 a year post as chief executive of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

The sum awarded in the severance payment was obtained via Freedom of Information requests and, since it was made public, there have been calls for an explanation of why the figure had been so high and who had sanctioned it.

Now there are worries about a “lack of oversight” at the combined authority.

Today (October 29) the combined authority’s overview and scrutiny committee heard James Palmer, the mayor of the authority, had made the decision to award the payout on his own having taken “independent legal advice”.

Many on the committee were surprised to hear no one else had been consulted when awarding the money.

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Cllr Mike Sargeant said: “I was thinking that if I was in a situation where I left a job, the only reason I would get any extra money is if there was any holiday they owed, and I would be expected to serve my notice period.

“The only time I have had loss of office payment was when I was made redundant.

“But I can’t see any reason for a loss of office payment to be given to someone who has resigned.

“Even if it was, I would have expected the payment to be a few thousand, not £94,000”

Cllr Sargeant said he thought it was a “big shame” that the information about the pay out had had to be obtained through an FOI request.

He said information should be available at the overview and scrutiny committee’s fingertips without them having to “go out and come back in again”.

Kim Sawyer, now joint interim chief executive of the combined authority, was a legal advisor to the combined authority before taking up her current role.

She said Mayor Palmer had taken the decision himself having taken “independent legal advice” on the subject. Ms Sawyer said she had not been involved in giving this advice.

Ms Sawyer said Mr Palmer had a “general power of confidence” to agree payments like this, and that he had not needed to consult other board members.

Lucy Nethsingha, chairwoman of the combined authority’s overview and scrutiny committee, said she was “surprised” to hear this.

Cllr Nethsingha said it was a “large sum of money” for one individual to be “signing off” and vowed to investigate the process further.

“It’s a huge amount of money to be handing over to an individual,” said Cllr Nethsingha. “We do need to be looking into that.

“At the moment, it appears we do not know who he took legal advice from and that it was simply the mayor and not any of the board members that were involved.

“That is a surprising way for a public authority like this to be being managed.

“There would normally be very significant oversight from a council or other members of the board, so I am very surprised it seems to have been taken in such a personal way.”

Cllr Markus Gehring said the mayor had gone “over the head” of his own legal advisors in granting the pay out.

He asked what the recourse would be if it turned out Mr Palmer’s independent advice had been incorrect or “erroneous”.

Ms Sawyer said Mr Whiteley had been contacted but that he did not want any more of his personal information to be put in the public domain.

Cllr Nethsingha said the authority’s audit and governance committee is now looking into the situation.

She said she will be contacting the chair of the audit committee to find out about the scope of their investigations.

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