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Calls for independent review into Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority

There are calls from senior board members for an independent review into the governance of the Combined Authority after the organisation’s chief financial officer was sacked after only a few months in the job.

Karl Fenlon is the fourth chief financial officer to leave the authority since it was set up in 2017.

Mayor James Palmer said Mr Fenlon had “misled” members of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority when on Monday, November 26, he made pessimistic remarks about how affordable some of its schemes, which include the Cambridge metro, the University of Peterborough and the King’s Dyke bypass, might be.

Mr Fenlon had suggested some stark choices might have to be made if the authority was to stay within its budget, telling members “we need to focus on the deliverable rather than the aspirational”.

Mr Palmer said: “Karl Fenlon has been dismissed from his position. He spoke at the scrutiny committee on Monday and I believe the facts he put forward misled the committee. He suggested schemes could not be funded when we know that they can be. I have to have faith in my officers. I am very disappointed this has happened.”

Mr Palmer said Mr Fenlon had spoken to the scrutiny committee “without the full facts”.

He said the decision to dismiss Mr Fenlon had been reached after a 9am meeting on Friday (November 30) attended by himself, deputy mayor Charles Roberts, and the authority’s two joint chief executives, Kim Sawyer and John Hill.

Mr Palmer said the decision to dismiss Mr Fenlon was reached “unanimously” at the meeting, but there is dissatisfaction that other board members were not consulted, or even informed, about the situation.

Cllr Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, sits on the authority’s board.

Cllr Smith, along with Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council, are making renewed calls for an independent review into the authority’s governance.

She said Mr Fenlon had been dismissed because he had refused to retract the statements he made at the scrutiny committee, and said the duty of officers to stand up and expose potential problems should be protected.

Cllr Smith said: “We called for this review in September when spending appeared to be running out of control and financial commitments over ambitious and it was denied. It is now even more apparent that this needs to happen urgently.

“Local authority chief finance and Section 151 officers have an independence and legal duty which is protected in law to make independent financial comment in the public interest.

“We fully understand why our finance and s151 officer declined to support a statement from the mayor retracting remarks they made at a formal Combined Authority scrutiny committee last Monday.”

Cllr Herbert said: “For the record, other board members again kept in the dark. And while we were surprised at our s151 officer’s public candour last Monday, several of us do not approve the sacking of a finance officer of the highest skill and integrity. We need an independent review.”

Mr Fenlon has been contacted for comment.

Mr Palmer said his focus was now on recruiting a permanent chief financial officer. He said he didn’t like relying on interim post-holders, and said the next step would be to begin recruiting to fill the position permanently.

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