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'Cronyism' claims as Mayor backs joint chiefs for Combined Authority

A war of words has broken out after the Combined Authority (CA) announced it planned to give its interim joint chief executives the jobs on a permanent basis.

Kim Sawyer and John Hill are likely to have their roles as joint CEOs rubber stamped at the CA’s AGM next Wednesday (May 29), a plan which mayor James Palmer claims will save £62,000.

James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough sparks 'cronyism' row with plans for permanent joint chief executives. Picture: Richard Marsham
James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough sparks 'cronyism' row with plans for permanent joint chief executives. Picture: Richard Marsham

But the appointments have angered Cambridge City Council Cllr Lewis Herbert, who accused the mayor of “cronyism” and called the decision “a black day” for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The CEOs were appointed in interim positions following the abrupt departure last August of Martin Whiteley, who had been paid £182,000 to oversee the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. He quit his post with a £94,500 pay-out, discovered via a Freedom of Information request, and without serving a notice period.

Cllr Herbert fumed: “It is a black day for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough with the mayor announcing these third and fourth appointments of East Cambridgeshire colleagues to senior CA and mayoral roles without any advert or formal appointment process for either. I also object to the CA deputy mayor [Charles Roberts] standing down as a councillor a fortnight ago and then days later being privately appointed and already starting a highly-paid position on work covering similar issues.”

Cllr Herbert believes there are major questions about the sudden end to the appointment process for a full-time chief executive in March, which went all the way to final interview and cost £30,000 in recruitment consultancy fees.

He added: “Unfortunately, the mayor has resisted all our efforts to put the CA on the right course, and to end financial waste and excessive use of consultants. Along with other council representatives, I will continue to argue for proper appointment processes and far better use of the CA’s funds.

“We will also use all options available to hold the mayor to account. It is the least that our communities deserve given the golden opportunities that the CA has to deliver for our whole area. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have such a wonderful inheritance and amazing future potential, including to ensure disadvantaged areas gain a far bigger share of future growth.”

But the mayor hit back, stating: “Cllr Herbert has arrived at a conclusion regarding the recruitment to the position of chief executive that is completely at odds with the reality. His vague accusations of cronyism are cheap and baseless.

“The CA has been through a rigorous process to appoint to this position, which has involved the use of a specialist recruitment agency specifically to undertake the task.

“Rightly, it was the job of the employment committee, in March, to discuss which of the candidates they wanted to recommend to the CA board to appoint. It was their majority view not to recommend to the board a candidate to appoint. The board then took the decision to continue the interim arrangement with the joint chief executives until the May board meeting."

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