''Black day' for Cambridgeshire says city council leader Lewis Herbert who quits portfolio role in protest at 'cronyism' by Mayor James Palmer
PUBLISHED: 17:25 18 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:25 18 May 2019
Mayor James Palmer's decision to tighten his grip on power by appointing two more former colleagues to top jobs within a week was a "black day" for the county says city council leader Lewis Herbert.
Cllr Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council, quit his portfolio post at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) in protest.
"The mayor's appointment processes at the combined authority smack of cronyism," he said.
The latest announcements follow the mayor earlier appointing East Cambridgeshire councillor Tom Hunt as his chief of staff, and the CAPCA employment committee led by the mayor and Councillor Charles Roberts appointing East Cambridgeshire Soham Councillor Paul Raynes to director of planning. Mayor Palmer has now appointed ex East Cambs council leader Roberts to a part time advisory role and his former chief executive at East Cambs John Hill to become permanent joint chief executive of CAPCA.
"Three of the mayor's East Cambridgeshire Conservative councillor colleagues are now in senior positions," said Cllr Herbert.
"No one is going to convince me or residents that there is somehow a unique pool of amazing talent in Ely and East Cambridgeshire that will do a better job for local people than open appointment processes that seek the brightest and best from across Cambridgeshire and the UK."
Councillor Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said that she shared many of Cllr Herbert's concerns.
"Yet again I find myself learning about a contentious recruitment to a highly paid job on the combined authority, of which I am a board member, from Twitter.
"It's tantamount to inhabiting a parallel universe where the normal rules of consultation and engagement do not apply.
Cllr Herbert said: "Unfortunately, the mayor has resisted all our efforts to put the combined authority on the right course, and to end financial waste and excessive use of consultants."
He added: "I have devoted many days of my life over the last three years pressing for proper appointment and spending and constitutional procedures and probity.
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"I am now standing down from my portfolio but will continue to work as a combined authority cabinet member, along with other council leaders and representatives, for the best for our whole area and local residents."
His resignation as portfolio holder for spatial planning follows the decision by the mayor to appoint former Mr Roberts to a £54,000 a year part-time job with CAPCA.
That decision was followed up two days later by Mayor Palmer's announcement that Mr Hill would stay as joint chief executive of CAPCA for at least two years after the combined authority had failed to find a successor to Martin Whiteley.
Cllr Herbert said: "It is a black day for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough with the mayor of the combined authority announcing these third and fourth appointments of East Cambridgeshire colleagues to senior combined authority and mayoral roles without any advert or formal appointment process for either. "I also object to the combined authority 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."
He said: "There are also 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 over £30,000 in recruitment consultancy fees for this and two other aborted recruitments, not to mention the time given by senior applicants for no benefit.
"This is just part of a continuing bigger waste of money including terminated senior recruitments with the combined authority spending £94,000 between November and March on recruitment consultancy fees. "
Cllr Herbert said the combined authority also recently suddenly ended the recruitment to senior posts of both director of transport and director of Finance in February, even though people were through to shortlisting for both posts.
Mayor Palmer said the appointment of Mr Roberts would build on their successful eight year working relationship.
Mayor Palmer said his former colleague "played a key role overseeing the development of the combined authority's housing strategy and was the lead member responsible for the development and launch of a programme of masterplans to improve the vitality and sustainability of market towns across Cambridgeshire".
"Mr Roberts also has a wide-ranging professional background including as an entrepreneur and start-up investor in sectors including food and farming. He runs a consultancy company primarily serving the legal profession."
The most recent register of interests on the CAPCA website show that two of the companies in which Mr Roberts was a director are now dormant, his former cider business Picked Pig Ltd and WRB Restoration Ltd. His role with HRC Consultants - a financial management company - remains active.