'Is it wrong that this mayor should aspire to have similar numbers of staff?' asks James Palmer as combined authority increase his personal team

PUBLISHED: 16:33 28 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:33 28 February 2019

Emotions ran high over staffing levels in the mayor's office during a meeting of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority on Wednesday February 27. Picture; ROBERT ALEXANDER

Emotions ran high over staffing levels in the mayor's office during a meeting of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority on Wednesday February 27. Picture; ROBERT ALEXANDER

Archant

Metro mayor James Palmer defended his bid to increase the number of staff he employs in his personal office by comparing how many are employed by his London and Liverpool counterparts.

“Two Labour mayors spend much more public money on their staffing than I do,” he said.

“The mayor of London has more staff than me. He has at least 11 deputies costing £125k each; and the mayor of Liverpool has a similar number.

“Is it wrong that this mayor should aspire to have similar numbers of staff?”

Mayor Palmer was responding to a report by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) overview and scrutiny committee.

Some board members were angered at his comments made at Wednesday’s (February 27) meeting of CAPCA.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha was reporting concerns the overview and scrutiny committee have about proposed increases in the numbers of staff required by Mayor Palmer’s office, when the comments were made.

Mayor Palmer currently has four staff members, but says he requires at least seven.

Cllr Nethsingha stated three times that comments she was making before the board were the express decisions of the scrutiny committee, and not her personal opinion.

Mayor Palmer then asked her three times: “Are the comments your own opinion or decisions voted upon by the overview and scrutiny committee?”

“If these comments were my personal opinion”, Cllr Nethsingha said, “…they would be much lengthier and more scathing. But they are not my opinion. They are the decisions of the committee members.”

Mayor Palmer repeated: “But they haven’t been voted on them, have they?”

Cllr Nethsingha replied: “No, they have not been voted on because they were the unanimously expressed opinion of all of the members of the committee”.

Mayor Palmer stated: “Right, so they haven’t been voted on”.

This incensed Cllr Bridget Smith, who said angrily: “I demand it be put on the record that your line of questioning Mr Mayor is completely inappropriate, and that it is not your place to either question or deny the findings of a committee when properly put before the board.

“How dare you question the manner in which decisions are reached by members of the overview and scrutiny committee, it is a disgrace?”

Through Cllr Nethsingha, the overview and scrutiny committee members were asking the mayor why he felt all the additional people were needed.

The scrutiny committee members also wanted to know why the mayor keeps an office at Ely costing taxpayers £15k per annum.

Mayor Palmer explained that he needs his Ely office because: “…it has easy rail links to allow access to London, Cambridge and Peterborough.”

Cllr Smith pointed out: “The combined authority is based 25 miles away in Alconbury. I struggle to see why we should not all be in one place, other than to provide convenience for one person.

“The proposed level of staffing of your office is shocking and I know you will reject everything that I say, but I think your attitude is a disgrace.”

Mayor Palmer asked if there were any more comments on the matter. No further comments were made. The additional staff for the mayor was approved by majority.

Cllrs Herbert and Smith voted against, all of the other board members voted to approve.

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