Metro Mayor James Palmer defends leadership after criticisms in government minister’s letter

Cambrigeshire and Peterborough Mayor James PalmerCambrigeshire and Peterborough Mayor James Palmer
Cambrigeshire and Peterborough Mayor James Palmer
Metro Mayor James Palmer has defended his leadership of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority after criticisms made in a leaked letter from a government minister.

Concerns were raised over comments made in a letter from Simon Clarke MP, Minister of State (Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government), which was circulated to Cambridgeshire MPs, all members of the CPCA and to all Chief Executives of local authorities.
The letter has been leaked to journalist John Elworthy and was published in the Ely Standard, sparking a robust defence of his leadership by Mayor Palmer.

In the letter, Mr Clarke stated there is: “…the need for Government to have confidence in the local arrangements in place”, and added: “a number of historical problems” had been identified.
These ‘problems’ include ‘factual errors’ in the CPCA constitution with the Employment Committee not always part of senior executive recruitments, and that legal advice behind the appointment of Tom Hunt (originally Political Assistant, then Chief of Staff to Mayor Palmer; now MP for Ipswich) ‘contained significant omissions.

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Mr Clarke added: “It is essential that the CPCA becomes an example of best practice in relation to applying the ‘Nolan’ principles of public life, namely: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership”.
In response, Mayor Palmer has strongly refuted the criticisms of both his leadership style or any of the actions taken by the CPCA since his inauguration in May 2017.
Mayor Palmer said: “This is a classic situation of the Civil Service in London sitting there in Whitehall plotting against the projects that we have been having success with here in Cambridgeshire.
“My job as Mayor is to deliver major projects and I’m doing this left, right and centre. We’re doing things here in Cambridgeshire that have never been done.
“It is well known, and I admit that I have a robust style about me, which means that things get done and things get delivered because my responsibility is to the electorate, and that is where I feel I should be judged, not in the corridors of Whitehall.
“I will always challenge authority – I’m not a member of the establishment as is plain for everyone to see – but I do this to get the best deals for the people in Cambridgeshire.
“Of course, I will always work with the people in Government to achieve this, and I see this letter as no more than a request for us to give certain details which we are fully aware of and which we are dealing with.
“But I’m very positive about the way the CPCA works as I am for the future of Cambridgeshire.
“Simon Clarke MP is obviously very busy and so he has to rely upon Civil Servants to send out letters on his behalf. Taking this letter in context, I think you have to look at what Michael Gove MP said in his speech two or three weeks ago about Government not actually catching up with what’s necessary to deliver.
“We have a Civil Service that in places is more interested in ‘box ticking’ than it is in delivery – but my job is to deliver, and I’m very, very proud of in what has been achieved in three years of the CPCA under my leadership.
“We have a scheme to deliver Peterborough University, a scheme to deliver Wisbech rail, a scheme to deliver Soham railway station, a scheme to deliver £100k homes – we’re working on the A10, the A142, the A47 dualling and just this week the King’s Dyke Crossing bottleneck.
“You know, these are all schemes which just a few years ago before the CPCA existed, seemed utterly impossible – yet here we are and here I am, delivering them.
“If I ruffle a few feathers along the way to get the people of Cambridgeshire what they want, then ruffle a few feathers I will.”
Cllr John Holdich, Leader of Peterborough City Council supported Mayor Palmer, saying: “I think the Minister has showed a lack of experience in the matters to which he refers, and his department knows that.
“These are historic things that have either been sorted, or are in the process of being dealt with, and when you set up an organisation from scratch of this complicated nature you cannot cover every base. That only comes with experience and practice.
“Instead of focussing on the negatives, the Minister ought to highlight the success the CPCA has had.”
Cllr Anna Bailey, Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council was also broadly supportive, saying: “East Cambridgeshire District Council was one of the key architects and supporters of devolution for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough back in 2017.
“We believed that taking decisions locally rather than in Whitehall was the right thing to do and that it would benefit our local community, bringing to reality desperately needed infrastructure projects.
“Our belief and ambition have been proved correct, but we are not complacent and always welcome constructive criticism.
“Of course, proper governance, transparency and accountability are critical elements of any democratic structure.
“Whilst it has not been without errors in the past, (and it would be surprising indeed for any brand-new organisation not to require some changes as it develops), I have every confidence in the current leadership of the CPCA by Mayor James Palmer and the running of the organisation by joint Chief Executives John Hill and Kim Sawyer.”
However, not all local councillors were as supportive of Mayor Palmer and his ‘robust’ approach.
Cllr Marcus Gehring (Cambridge City Council), who has had a number of very vocal disagreements with the mayor over policy of late, said: “I believe it is good to see that the Government is starting to hold the Mayor and the way he runs the CPCA more to account.
“I had heard rumours that officials in Westminster were unhappy about the many Private Eye appearances of Mr Palmer in his role as Mayor; but this is the first time we have written evidence about said unhappiness.

“There were several instances of financial dealings, HR and other decisions coming from the Mayor which have given me some cause for concern, for example the surprise departure of a senior Financial Officer two years ago or the appointment of certain officers from East Cambs District Council.

“But to see the Government notice and express concern about the governance and transparency of decisions is good to see.

“I really hope that this will serve as a wake-up call to the Mayor to finally become much more transparent. The entire region deserves much better.”

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