Metro mayor’s £1 million extra spend on staff called-in by scrutiny committee

Mayor James Palmer
Mayor James Palmer
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A near £1 million rise in the staffing budget at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority has been called-in by members of its scrutiny committee.

The decision by the combined authority - which is headed by metro mayor James Palmer - to employ 17 new staff members, three of whom will earn more than £100,000 a year, has now been put on hold ahead of the call-in meeting.

The call-in by cross-party members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be held on Wednesday, August 16 at East Cambridgeshire District Council in Ely.

The new positions include directors of housing, skills and transport and infrastructure who will be paid between £105,000 and £128,000 a year.

The directors will be assisted by three ‘programme managers’ who will receive between £55,000 and £67,000.

Two finance and two legal positions will also be filled, while a communication manager will be appointed on a salary of at least £37,000.

Two of the new jobs are for the office of Mayor James Palmer.

The Conservative will have a political assistant on £34,986 a year and a private secretary on a salary of between £25,000 and £30,000.

In total, the extra funding for the posts is £946,500.

Listing the reasons for the call-in, members of the committee said: “1) The Overview and Scrutiny Committee have no wish to hamper the progression of mayors’ and combined authority plans but believe that it is important that this area of expenditure should be thoroughly examined in order to provide the residents with ‘best value for money’.

“The committee believes that the level of discussion at the combined authority meeting was disappointing and the questioning not stringent enough and not commensurate with the importance of the decision.

“2) The committee is concerned that the newly agreed budget figure of £1,800,000 is nearly 25 per cent higher than the original budget figure. This means that the newly elected authority either set a budget that was far too lean or that it did not fully appreciate the tasks that have now apparently emerged.

“3) Whilst it is accepted that the suggested salaries will be subject to detailed evaluation they appear to be too high.

“4) Insufficient investigation appears to have been carried out to explore how some roles could be shared with other organisations, especially concerning transport and infrastructure, skills and housing.

“5) There are concerns about the level of possible consultants’ fees.”

The call-in requests that the new staffing levels be reconsidered once the combined authority’s chief executive Martin Whiteley meets with the scrutiny committee.

Mayor Palmer has previously defended the new jobs, saying: “The combined authority requires a number of key posts to lead on fundamental areas of our work programme.

“This includes commissioning the projects that will deliver 100,000 new homes, designing and implementing a new whole skills system and the development of a future local transport plan for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

“For every £1 of the authority’s costs the county will get £30 back in investment. We are committed to being a lean authority and still will be in comparison to other combined authorities.”

Scrutiny member and Labour group leader on Peterborough City Council, Cllr Ed Murphy, said: “I believe that management and administration costs for a devo authority like ours should be no greater than seven per cent as resources should be put into delivery and support to acquire additional funds to deliver priorities.”

He has previously criticised the combined authority for duplicating the roles carried out by senior officers at other Cambridgeshire authorities.

The new positions and salaries:

. Directors of housing, skills and transport and infrastructure - £105,000-£128,000 a year each

. Assistant director for economic strategy and spatial planning - £50,000-£55,000

. Three programme managers - £55,000-£67,000 each

. Commissioning and contracts solicitor - £45,000-£50,000

. Legal officer (trainee) - £25,000-£30,000

. Finance manager - £45,000-£50,000

. Finance officer (trainee) - £25,000-£30,000

. Communications manager - £37,000-£50,000

. Executive officer - £30,000- £35,000

. Two personal assistants - £20,000 to £25,000 each

. Political assistant - £34,986

. Private secretary - £25,000 - £30,000

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