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Mayor James Palmer defends £16k private ball

Mayor James Palmer has defended spending more than £16,000 on a private ball last year amid claims “blunt questions” need to be asked about spending at the combined authority.

The mayor’s ball, held in June last year, raised funds for PTSD999, a “social enterprise” which helps emergency service workers who are suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mayor James Palmer, Picture: Richard Marsham/RMG Photography (6786820)
Mayor James Palmer, Picture: Richard Marsham/RMG Photography (6786820)

The combined authority say the event cost £16,574.33. Costs for the ball, including £14,194 for catering, are included on the balance sheet of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, which was set up in 2017 to oversee major transport and housing projects in the region.

The combined authority says the ball raised £25,960, covering its costs and raising an additional £9,385.67 for PTSD999 (plus, the authority says, an additional £1,600 which was raised for the group as a result of the night). This means the event more than covered its own costs.

But some are questioning whether the event should have been included on the combined authority books in the first place, with claims the public was “effectively underwriting” a private fundraising event.

Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council and combined authority board member, says “blunt questions” will need to be asked at the combined authority board meeting next week about why the costs were shouldered by the combined authority in the first place.

Cllr Lewis Herbert said: “I can’t see why the accounts for the ball should be muddled in with the combined authority. A blunt question will have to be asked at the board meeting next week, particularly if there is going to be another ball this year.

“Has there been any apportionment of the time spent by officials organising and sorting this? I am not against these charity balls, but they should be run at arm’s length. It is one of these issues where the combined authority has got itself in a mix up.”

James Palmer, mayor of the combined authority, defended the ball, saying he is “delighted” with the outcome, and that there had been no cost to the taxpayer.

Mr Palmer said: “I want to make clear that the Mayor’s Ball was self-financing and there was no cost to the taxpayer.

“Although there were understandably costs associated with hosting the ball which appear on the Combined Authority spending data, these costs were reimbursed through ticket sales and other fundraising activities such as auctions on the night and a raffle.

“The net result was a substantial surplus of £9,385.67 generated for chosen cause PTSD999. In addition to this, as a result of the ball, an additional £1,600 was raised for PTSD999, but was paid directly to them.

“It was always the intention that the ball would be self-financing and given that this was an inaugural event, I was delighted with the outcome. PTSD999 is Cambridge-based and supports emergency services workers past and present who are suffering from post-traumatic stress.

“PTSD999 is being contacted by up to 30 people per day seeking help, including those affected by incidents such as the London Bridge terror attack, Manchester bombing and Grenfell Tower fire. One of the other positive outcomes from the Ball was increased awareness that this service both exists and needs support.”

However, Lib Dem deputy leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Aidan Van de Weyer said the event had effectively been “underwritten” by the public.

Cllr Van de Weyer said: “Why is all the on the Combined Authority books? It was meant to be a private ball. Even if it made a profit, it was effectively underwritten by the CA.”

Concerns have also been raised about whether the authority should be engaging in fund raising when its core duties are to ensure sustainable economic growth in the region, provide affordable housing, and improve transport infrastructure.

Cllr Herbert added: “I think the public has a right to ask the mayor what he is doing. We are still seeing a significant underspend on the things that really matter which is affordable housing and transport projects. I am frustrated because I thought we were getting on top of this.”

Mr Palmer said there would be another mayor’s ball this year.

Mr Palmer added: “It is the intention to host another Mayor’s Ball this year, for a different cause, which will again be self-financing and hopefully build on the success of the 2018 event.”

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