Councillors have been left “gobsmacked” and “disturbed” after the chief financial officer of Peterborough’s mayoral authority was dismissed, making him the fourth to leave in 18 months.
Today (Friday, November 30), Karl Fenlon, the interim chief financial officer at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CA) was officially let go from the organisation.
Mayor James Palmer, leader of the CA, said Mr Fenlon had been dismissed after making “misleading” statements about the funding of major projects at the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee on Monday. Mr Fenlon had cast doubt over whether major projects could be achieved within the authority’s budget.
Mr Palmer said he had to “have faith” in his officers, and said this had not been the case with Mr Fenlon.
But members of the authority’s audit and accounts committee paid tribute to Mr Fenlon, saying they had found him to be a “professional” and “impressive officer” who was helping get the authority’s spending on track.
Cllr Nichola Harrison branded the situation “shambolic” and asked whether there was to be a payout for Mr Fenlon following his departure. Mr Palmer said he could not confirm whether any financial settlement had been awarded.
Lewis Herbert, Cambridge City Council leader and board member, called for an independent review into the governance of the authority.
Cllr Herbert said: “For the record, other board members were again kept in the dark. And while we were surprised at our S151 officer’s public candour last Monday, several of us do not approve of the sacking of a finance officer of the highest skill and integrity. We need an independent review.”
Cllr Richard Robertson said: “We are in the position where a chief financial officer is no longer with us. He had made some very critical comments and now he has been sacked and that is a very serious thing for us to accept. From an audit point of view, we have had an impressive and effective professional officer and he has been sacked. You can’t just sack a S151 officer like that. I am very concerned about that.”
Cllr Antony Mason said he was “gobsmacked” and “disturbed” when he heard the news of Mr Fenlon’s dismissal.
On Monday, Mr Palmer said he could “only apologise” for “underestimating” the cost of running the combined authority having said in campaign literature it could be done for £850,000 a year. After taking on extra responsibilities and staff from the LEP (local enterprise partnership), the running costs of the authority now stand at about £7.6 million a year.
Mr Palmer said his focus was now on recruiting a permanent chief financial officer. He said he did not like relying on interim post-holders, and said the next step would be to begin recruiting to fill the position permanently.
A CA spokeswoman said: “Mr Fenlon has been given a notice period of a month as per the terms of his temporary contract. No compensation payment is in question.
“It will be a month’s pay and but he will not be required to serve it.”
The payment will be approximately £12,500.
Josh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporting Service