Tory county councillor claims Mayor James Palmer removed chief executive for failing to control staffing costs but admits 'I have no evidence for what happened'
PUBLISHED: 10:29 19 December 2018
A Tory county and district councillor claims Mayor James Palmer “took decisive action” to remove chief executive Martin Whiteley from the combined authority for failing to control staffing costs.
Cllr Dave Connor, chairman of the county council planning committee, sprung to defend Mayor Palmer following criticism by NW Cambs MP Shaelish Vara.
Mr Vara said: “We have had now four finance directors since 2017.
“We have seen a chief executive leave who has had a huge pay-off and resigned under circumstances which are forbidden from the public to see, because it’s a sealed agreement – but we do know that it was just under £100,000. All of these give me huge concern.”
But Cllr Connor said: “Following the developments that have taken place since the departure of Mr Whiteley, it seems clear to me what likely happened.
“The mayor set out very ambitious targets when it came to what he thought the staffing budget for the combined authority ought to be.
“These targets went far further than the targets set out by any other newly elected ‘metro mayor’ and were driven by a desire for the cost of the new authority being kept to an absolute minimum.
“Since the target was set the combined authority has taken control of the local enterprise partnership.
“This is something that must be taken into account. However, it seems clear that under the previous chief executive the staffing budget at the combined authority was growing at a rate the mayor was not comfortable with.”
Cllr Connor said: “When the mayor discovered this, he took decisive action, both with regard to the position of Mr Whiteley but also in instructing the new interim chief executive John Hill to immediately launch a full review of the combined authority, part of which would look at staffing levels and how to bring down the staffing bill.”
But Cllr Connor admitted “I have no evidence for what happened” and accepted other councillors have outlined their own theories.
“However on the balance of probabilities, it seems clear that this is what happened.
“Another key question is how does the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority staffing budget compare with the staffing budgets of other combined authorities? My sense is that it’s not much higher than any of the others.”
Cllr Connor added: “The mayor appears to have recognized a problem and demonstrated decisive action in dealing with it.
“I hope and believe that the outcome of the ongoing staffing/governance review at the combined authority will be to drive down the cost of the staffing bill.”
He said the combined authority and the mayor would be held to account by the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
“The mayor has set out ambitious targets for the delivery of infrastructure and housing across the area and he will be held to account for whether he delivers on these targets,” said Cllr Connor.
“This is surely what the people of our county care most about, whether the combined authority delivers.
“With Kings Dyke, the funding of Wisbech-March rail Grip 3 and CLT support across East Cambridgeshire, there are already signs that the mayor is delivering for Fenland and East Cambs.”