Inquiry into ball run by Mayor James Palmer finds references to beneficaries being a charity 'made in good faith,albeit erroneously so' and a social enterprise 'an error'
PUBLISHED: 12:13 26 February 2019
A report into the running of the Ely Cathedral summer ball run by Mayor James Palmer last June concluded that references to the beneficiaries being a charity "were made in good faith, albeit erroneously so".
The investigation was carried out on behalf of the overview and scrutiny committee of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) by monitoring officer Patrick Arran.
Scrutiny chairwoman Lib Dem Councillor Lucy Nethsingha said on Monday when the report was discussed that the way the ball had been managed may have caused the combined authority “serious reputational damage”.
Mr Arran found that of the 180 £120 a head tickets, 20 were given to PTSD999, the company benefitting from the ball, and a further 10 were given away – some to staff who had helped to organise it.
“There has been comment in the media regarding the status of the organisation and the use of the word charity in combined authority publicity,” says Mr Arran.
“The organisation is not a charity registered with the Charity Commission; it is a company limited by guarantee. The organisation describes itself as a ‘community action’.
“I understand that the organisation has received two lottery funded grants. Whilst I am satisfied that there is nothing untoward about raising money for a good cause that is not a registered charity, I understand that it was made very clear to anyone wishing to purchase tickets for the event that the beneficiaries of any donations would be PTSD999 and this is set out in the flyer for the event.”
He added: “There has been some criticism regarding posts on the combined authority website referring to this being a charitable event or funds raised for charity.
“It is clear to me that any references to the organisation being a charity were made in good faith albeit erroneously so. There is no further comment to be made on this point.”
And in response to a query from a scrutiny committee member he reports also that any reference to PTSD999 being described as a social enterprise is also “an error”.
Cllr Nethsingha told the scrutiny committee: “If we had simply ignored this because it is small amounts of money, I don’t think we would have held a lot of public confidence. Very serious questions have been raised in the public domain in various newspapers. I stand by the need for this report.”
But Conservative Chris Boden, who represents Whittlesey at Fenland District Council, accused her of trying to score “party political” points.
“You have allowed us to be distracted away from other matters that need scrutiny,” he said.
“I am sorry to say this Lucy,” added Cllr Boden. “O&S doesn’t mean obstruction and sabotage. I fear you are losing my confidence as chair of this committee.”
Conservative David Connor, who represents Doddington and Wimblington at Fenland District Council said: “We have spent too much time on this. There are a lot more projects the mayor has been involved in. He has done nothing wrong. You [Cllr Nethsingha] are pillorying someone who has done nothing wrong. Let’s put this to bed and move on.”
Explaining why the proceeds were yet to be handed over, Mr Arran said the main reason was late payment for two tables.
“I am informed that arrangements are being made to pay the balance over to PTSD999,” he said.
Mr Arran’s report found nothing untoward in CAPCA’s involvement and the way it supported Mayor Palmer. He had recommended the mayor set up a charitable trust if he wanted to raise money in the future.
The monitoring officer says reference on the CAPCA website to it being a charity “was an honest mistake by officers. We were referring to money raised for a good cause and the word charity was not used in its legal context”.
In response to a question about the address of PTSD999 Ltd being the same as that of the South Cambridgeshire Conservative Association – and the chairman of that association Ben Shelton being also a director of PTSD999 – Mr Arran saw no issue.
There was no conflict of interest since there was no use of public funds to support PTSD999, he said.
“A conflict of interest arises where an individual may use public office to benefit themselves or their associates,” he concluded. “In this case the mayor was using public office to raise money to benefit an organisation which helps emergency services workers suffering from post-traumatic stress, which is not a political cause.”
There was a balance of £9,385.67 from receipts and a £1600 personal donation was paid directly to PTSD999.
“The total raised was £10,985.67,” says Mr Arran.