Public ‘not even slightly interested’ in departure and pay off to chief executive says Mayor Palmer - but are they? And should they?

Mayor James Palmer has said he doesn't think the general public is at all interested in the reasons

Mayor James Palmer has said he doesn't think the general public is at all interested in the reasons for the departure of combined authority chief executive Martin Whiteley - or the £94,000 pay off revealed in an FOI submitted by the Cambs Times. - Credit: Archant

Mayor James Palmer claims the public is not “even slightly interested” about the circumstances surrounding the combined authority’s former chief executive’s mystery departure, or the “huge” £94,500 pay-out when he left.

Last week it was revealed through Freedom of Information requests that Martin Whiteley, the former chief executive of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, was given a “huge” £94,500 pay out upon his departure.

The Combined Authority, which oversees major housing and transport projects in Cambridgeshire, says Mr Whiteley resigned in August.

The reasons for his departure remain unclear, and Mr Whiteley has expressed his wish for the privacy of the legal agreement that was reached between his legal representatives and the combined authority’s to be respected.

Many, however, are keen to find out more about how public money is being spent at the combined authority. The authority’s overview and scrutiny committee and audit and governance committee are now both investigating the situation.

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James Palmer, mayor of the combined authority, has now spoken out. He says he doesn’t believe the general public is “even slightly interested” in the circumstances surrounding Mr Whiteley’s departure, saying most people are more interested in the projects the authority is delivering.

Mr Palmer said: “First of all, I don’t think the general public are even slightly interested in this.

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“What they are interested in is whether King’s Dyke is going to be built. They are interested in whether the Cambridge metro is going to be on, what are we doing on the A47? They are not going to be particularly interested in a chief executive leaving the combined authority.”

Mr Palmer said the circumstances surrounding Mr Whiteley’s departure were probably something that “excites a few people on the scrutiny committee” more than people simply “going about their daily business”.

The reason for Mr Whiteley’s resignation remains unclear, but Mr Palmer appeared to hint at a difference of opinion between himself and Mr Whiteley over the future direction of the combined authority.

“Martin Whiteley resigned,” said Mr Palmer. “He resigned after discussions we had about the direction the combined authority was going in.

“Martin has moved on to pastures new, and there is a legal agreement with Martin around his severance payment that was done between his legal representatives and legal representatives of the combined authority. We have got interim chief executives in, the combined authority’s delivery is going in the right direction, and I am very happy with the changes that have been made.

“But I think that, really, the general public are not particularly interested in discussing this ad infinitum.”

Mr Palmer said there is a “reason” the agreement reached between Mr Whiteley’s legal representatives and the combined authority is not public, but did not give any further details.

Mr Palmer confirmed he had taken independent legal advice on whether he should award Mr Whiteley £94,500 as a severance payment.

He said it was important to get a perspective independent of the combined authority. He did not say who had given the advice, and said he did not know how much the advice had cost.

On Monday (October 29), Lucy Nethsingha, chairwoman of the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee expressed surprise upon hearing the pay out to Mr Whiteley had been agreed by Mr Palmer on his own.

The committee heard that Mr Palmer had not needed to consult other board members about the payment because his “general power of competence” covered decisions over even large individual payments.

Cllr Nethsingha said it was a “huge” amount of money for one person to be able to sign off, and said she was very worried there was not proper oversight of the process from other committees or board members.

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