Did Tories stage a deliberate boycott of Combined Authority scrutiny committee? Well it certainly looks that way says Lib Dem chair Lucy

PUBLISHED: 21:24 17 June 2018

Mayor James Palmer

Mayor James Palmer

Richard Marsham - RMG Photography Tel - 07798 758711

A scrutiny committee set up to examine the work and actions of Conservative mayor James Palmer and the Conservative controlled combined authority fell apart on Friday after it was boycotted by Conservative councillors.

Lib Dem Lucy NethsinghaLib Dem Lucy Nethsingha

Some Conservatives argued that the timing of the meeting – 9am – was too early for them to get in from Peterborough and other parts of the county.

Ironically the meeting was called to discuss Mayor Palmer’s transport plans where he has been at loggerheads with the Greater Cambridge Partnership over such things as park and ride expansion.

However Councillor Lucy Nethsingha, the Lib Dem chair of the scrutiny committee, believes transport issues are fundamental to district councils as well as Cambridge and she is furious the lack of Conservative members meant her committee was inquorate and unable to make decisions.

She said: “The mayor and other Conservative Councillors might not like the idea of taking a park and ride bus into Cambridge, but for thousands of commuters this is really the only option at the moment.

“And with park and ride sites 97 per cent full it is crucial that the full implication of any pause in bringing forward improvements and expansion is properly scrutinised.

“That was the purpose of the call-in meeting, which was not able to take place when Conservative Councillors didn’t turn up, because they didn’t want to deal with the rush hour traffic. The irony is almost unbelievable.”

Cllr Lewis Herbert, the Labour leader of Cambridge City Council, described the inquorate outcome of Friday’s meeting as “an affront to democracy”.

Mayor Palmer said he was ready to attend but when contacted by other Conservatives warning him the scrutiny committee would be inquorate he opted to stay away.

One Conservative delegate to the scrutiny committee is Councillor David Over of Peterborough City Council.

He told his local paper that initially he was unhappy about the 9am start but then learnt that party colleagues were going to boycott it anyway as they felt the item “was not sufficiently important to be called-in”. He was, he told the paper, thankful his train ticket was refundable.

Fenland councillors Samantha Hoy and Jan French – the latter a former member of the scrutiny committee – were at Shire Hall on Friday along with other Conservative colleagues.

Cllr Hoy said: “We have a group meeting; dates set a year in advance”

And Cllr French said seminars were held on the same day and these “are always known well in advance”.

Cllr Nethsingha remains furious that her meeting was boycotted and she insisted that call-in was legitimate and the decision to scrutinise Mayor Palmer’s transport plans was cleared with the combined authority legal team.

“It is also disappointing to find Conservative members of the committee being critical of the time which was chosen for the meeting,” she said.

“The timing of the meeting was chosen in order to fit around the availability of the mayor. For Conservative councillors to then use this as a reason for not attending is therefore disappointing.”

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