Mayor James Palmer will face tough questions on policy and funding as scrutiny committee investigates ‘one man’s ego trip’

Metro Mayor James Palmer outlines what hes doing to improve rail services locally

Metro Mayor James Palmer outlines what hes doing to improve rail services locally - Credit: Archant

Policy and funding processes used by Mayor James Palmer have been questioned at a meeting of the Combined Authority Overview and Scrutiny Committee yesterday (July 29).

The Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA), who is no stranger to controversy, was not in attendance as members scrutinised an updated version of the authority's constitution.

As chairman, Cllr Lorna Dupré, looked over the 230-page document, she said: "Mayor Palmer is going to face tough questions when he attends our next meeting as this committee seeks urgent answers."

Cllr Marcus Gehring said: "I have many concerns with this document, for example - the way the CEO is remunerated has no scrutiny at all, and this is actually written into the articles of our constitution.

"I really don't understand why a public body that is tasked with delivering projects from public money is not open to more transparency.

"Previously I was told it would allow us to access funds otherwise not available.

"That would be fine if it were true, but it isn't, and I just think this committee should play a role in the decision-making process taken by the executive members of the authority.

Most Read

"Otherwise, if we were ever questioned about our scrutiny role, this committee might not necessarily be shielded from the consequences."

Cllr Jocelynne Scutt was also concerned: "Surely the more transparent we are, the better; but Mayor Palmer keeps increasing the number of meetings closed to the press and public.

"Local government has always been criticised for this and it's hardly surprising when the public is denied an understanding of what we do with their money.

"If we, in a scrutiny role, do our jobs properly, then we shouldn't endorse any situation where there doesn't appear to be proper transparency - but our constitution allows this."

Cllr Kevin Price went further: "I'm seriously worried about a mayor who seems determined to make every executive decision on his own.

"The CPCA was set up so that each leader of each constituent authority could work on ideas with a mayor, who would simply chair their meetings bringing everybody together.

"It seems to me what we have is a mayoral authority, with random people down there below him who can be asked the odd question every so often when they put in a report.

"I have enormous concerns that Mayor Palmer seems to appoint every executive member as if it was the mayor's role to appoint everybody and everything just to work around him.

"It was intended that people from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough would work for a common aim… and not one man's ego trip."

Cllr Gehring added: "The mayor was widely criticised last October for the huge sums of money he announced would be needed to delivery his projects; but he told all of us not to worry as he could 'get the money'.

"Now we're told by Mayor Palmer that he can't even raise £300k for his projects, much less than the millions he promised - and nowhere near the billions he needs to deliver this infrastructure project.

"With absolutely no idea how to finance his entire venture, I'm hesitating to say this authority is a good use of public money when there's not even a glimpse of an idea as to how we're going to fund any of it."

Cllr Pippa Heylings had similar worries: "I seriously question the level of confidence that we as a scrutiny committee can give to the board members for the financial viability of the Mayor's projects.

"Mayor Palmer requested £1m of public money, on the basis, he told us: '…it will generate £2m matched funding for the CAM Metro'.

"But we now discover barely £300k has been raised, and he struggled to get that much… so we now have to fund the full amount from somewhere else, but where?

"The board believed Mayor Palmer's promises, and made their decision on his further fund raising ability

"But, I don't see anything that I'm hearing today that would give me any confidence in him making any future decisions of that nature.

"The boards' trust was misplaced, and funding wasn't forthcoming, so what possible level of confidence and what further reassurances can be given for him continuing to take these decisions?"

Chairman, Cllr Lorna Dupré and chief executive officer, John Hill both agreed with members that certain issues should be made more transparent and that the overview and scrutiny committee should have more of a say in some decisions made at executive level.

A question to that effect will be put to Mayor Palmer at the committee's next meeting in September.