Data protection breach inquiry threat by Mayor Palmer’s combined authority over leaking of councillor’s £100k a year directorship role

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

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority announced tonight they are looking into a “potential data protection breach” over the leaking of the appointment of a county councillor to a £100,000 director’s role.

The authority insists the recruitment of Councillor Paul Raynes of Soham – elected only last year but now obliged to quit to take up the directorship – was fair and in accordance with their employment procedures.

An authority spokesman said: “The facts are that Paul Raynes applied via an independent recruitment advisor, was at no point deselected from the interview process and was recruited as a result of a unanimous panel decision.

“You will no doubt be aware that he has now resigned from his councillor position.

“We would like also to make you aware that the combined authority is looking into a potential data protection breach relating to the way in which information regarding the recruitment process was communicated to you.”

Yesterday the authority rebutted the claim that Cllr Raynes had been eliminated from the selection process following an assessment panel that included Councillor Kevin Price of Cambridge City Council.

The statement said: “The panel on which Cllr Raynes sat gave its input as just one part of several assessments which fed into an overall process to make a final decision: meaning Paul Raynes did not exit the process.”

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Karl Fenlon, interim head of HR at the combined authority, said: “We conducted an open and competitive recruitment process in accordance with the requirements of both our constitution and our employment committee.

“All applications were made to an independent, national, recruitment advisor: no direct applications were considered.

“The recruitment advisors provided a list of applicants for this position to be position to the employment panel, as approved by the employment committee.

“Candidates were then long-listed by the panel before attending a series of assessments.”

Mr Fenlon said Cllr Price took part in these assessments before a number of candidates were short listed by the employment panel.

“This list of candidates attended a final interview with the employment sub committee which reached a decision on the preferred candidate.”

Mr Fenlon said: “The director roles were advertised in the recruitment pages of the Telegraph, Times and Guardian websites, plus Linkedin.

“The employment sub committee comprised of the mayor, deputy mayor Charles Roberts, and Cllr Ryan Fuller with chief executive Martin Whitely in attendance as an observer. They were supported by the external recruitment advisor.”

Mayor James Palmer had earlier been accused of running “an old boys club” following the revelation that Cllr had been offered the job.

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

He rebuked Mayor Palmer for offering the post of strategy and planning director to Cllr Raynes.

Cllr Price was part of an assessment panel interviewing candidates and said that “after interviewing Councillor Raynes we reached the unanimous conclusion that he would not be a suitable candidate and that was our recommendation.

“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 mayor already has political advisors, one of whom (Tom Hunt) 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. “

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.”

The leader of Cambridge City Council called for Mayor Palmer to be more open about the selection process.

Cllr Herbert, who is also the combined authority’s portfolio holder for strategic planning, said: “Along with others, I have real concerns about aspects of the combined authority’s recent senior recruitment process.

“On the appointment of Councillor Raynes the mayor has said that he didn’t personally prompt the application.

“However, I ask him to be open more widely, including in Paul Raynes’ interest, to be clear about the stage Paul Raynes joined the application process, and the specific route that application followed.”

Mayor Palmer “totally rejected” the notion that he or his deputy, Councillor Charles Roberts, also the leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, had personally put forward Paul Raynes for the role of director for strategy and planning “in contravention of the standard recruitment process.

“The first I knew of his application was seeing his submitted CV, as with all the other applicants.”

The mayor said: “I also completely reject reports that suggest that myself, Cllr Roberts and the combined authority have acted improperly in this recruitment process.

“Our processes are open, fair and competitive and Paul Raynes was selected purely on merit and based on the impressive and highly relevant experience he has. I believe that process has resulted in an appointment which will be a huge asset to the combined authority.”

Mayor Palmer added: “His new role is a politically restricted officer post and he will therefore be stepping down as a councillor, as is quite right in cases such as this.”

Mayor Palmer said Cllr Price had made his comments “from the perspective of just one part of a much wider interview process, as is appropriate for a position of this importance”.

The mayor said: “In his interview with myself, Cllr Roberts and the combined authority chief executive, Mr Raynes performed very impressively.

“The final stage of the process required him to go before the combined authority employment sub committee, which included myself, Cllr Roberts and Cllr Ryan Fuller.

“Unfortunately Labour did not put forward a representative to attend the sub committee at that particular meeting.”

Mayor Palmer added: “Mr Raynes’ experience both in local and national government, as well as his work across public and private sectors were highly relevant to the role at the combined authority.

“During his many years at The Local Government Association, he had a direct involvement in the campaign for greater devolution, which led to metro mayors and combined authorities, so his knowledge, experience and understanding of the position are excellent.

“Mr Raynes has a wealth of talent and experience to offer and the reality is that he was the exceptional candidate in a strong field of applicants.”

Cllr Roberts described Cllr Raynes as “exceptional” who would make a considerable contribution to the combined authority.

He said Cllr Price sat in on only one part of the recruitment process in which Cllr Raynes came through to a short list of two prior to his appointment. The interviewees were screened by two separate panels and also assessed during a lunch attended by all applicants and councillors and recruitment advisors.

Cllr Roberts said he was not aware until the last moment of the application by Cllr Raynes “but there was no way I wouldn’t have seen him simply because he was a county councillor.”

Councillor Price responded: “I remain of the view that where a panel set up to assess a candidate ‘technically’ unanimously rejects someone as unsuitable for a senior level post, that should weigh heavily against them, despite any more general interviews or how they get on with others at lunch.

“In my experience of attending other interviews for combined authority posts with both the mayor and deputy mayor, it has been my view that in depth knowledge and experience in the specific area of a post has been less valued than the ability to agree with the mayor and to look only to the mayor for a lead rather than serve the wider council membership of the Combined Authority.”

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