East Cambridgeshire is 'not unfairly benefiting' from combined authority, says Mayor Palmer
PUBLISHED: 09:41 30 May 2019 | UPDATED: 12:04 30 May 2019
Mayor James Palmer has responded to allegations that East Cambridgeshire is unfairly benefiting from the Combined Authority.
Members of the combined authority board continued their verbal slanging match at their annual meeting yesterday (May 29).
It was the first time the leaders of various authorities had come together since accusations of "cronyism" were made by Cambridge City Council's Lewis Herbert.
Mayor James Palmer said the "myth" that East Cambridgeshire unfairly benefits "comes up constantly".
"Every single part of this county is getting the same attention," he said, adding "to suggest that one area is getting a better deal than any other is absolute rubbish and it is shameful."
The row erupted as the board was asked to approve the mayor's appointments of John Hill and Kim Sawyer as joint chief executives, making their interim roles permanent.
Leader of Cambridge City Council, Labour councillor Lewis Herbert, and the leader of South Cambridgeshire, Liberal Democrat Bridget Smith, objected to the appointments, which were approved by a majority vote, criticising the idea that Mr Hill was the best candidate considering he is also the chief executive of East Cambridgeshire.
Cllr Smith said the Combined Authority's employment committee had interviewed three candidates, found "there was an outstanding candidate," but "the mayor asserted his veto" to block the appointment.
Cllr Anna Bailey, of East Cambridgeshire, said that the joint roles would make savings and staff sharing was positive, adding the two councillors voicing criticisms had dismissed the findings of the employment committee themselves in the past.
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Cllr Smith responded: "The only benefit here is for East Cambridgeshire, which constantly benefits financially from this authority - none of the rest of us are benefiting, the rest of us have a disbenefit here of not having a high quality chief executive running this authority and representing us on this authority."
"I would hope that some other members of the board," she said addressing the Conservatives, "would speak up about competency. I have had private conversations with members of the board about the competency of the people we are talking about," but added it was not for her to reveal that information.
"I would hope that some of you for once would speak up instead of sitting there silently," she said to the Conservative board members.
Cllr Herbert added to the criticism, saying: "There is a perception outside of this room that East Cambridgeshire is increasingly taking control of this combined authority and doing this process without doing it properly adds to that concern."
He said the hiring process had "not been appropriate" and said any public authority would at least be expected to interview for the role of chief executive.
"I have sat and listened to this debate with a mixture of deep sadness and quite frankly incredulity at the way this appointment has been manipulated by councillor Herbert and councillor Smith in their unholy Labour-Liberal Democrat alliance," the mayor responded.
He said councillor Smith's account of the employment committee process was "entirely skewed and not truthful," and defended the chief executives' work as "exceptional".
He said suggestions of bias toward East Cambridgeshire are "without foundation" and the "allegations are complete and utter nonsense".
The joint chief executives, who had both been undertaking the role on a temporary basis, were appointed to their roles permanently, with both Cllr Smith and Cllr Herbert voting against.