The chief financial officer at Peterborough’s mayoral authority has received £12,500 after being dismissed, but he will not need to work another day.
Karl Fenlon was removed from his role at 9am this morning according to metro mayor James Palmer after making “misleading” statements about the funding of major projects at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CA) overview and scrutiny committee on Monday.
Mr Fenlon, who had filled the role on an interim basis, had cast doubt over whether major projects such as the University of Peterborough 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, who was the fourth person to hold the role in 18 months.
The CA has been under fire previously after the departure of chief executive Martin Whiteley, who it was revealed through Freedom of Information requests had received a payout of £94,500 despite Mayor Palmer insisting he had resigned.
The payout was awarded after the mayor had undertaken more than £11,000 of independent legal advice.
Asked if Mr Fenlan would receive compensation after being dismissed, a spokeswoman for the CA 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 but he will not be required to serve it.”
The payment will be approximately £12,500 as Mr Fenlon’s salary is between £150,000 and £155,000.
Two board members at the CA have also today re-iterated calls for a full and independent review and audit of the CA’s finances.
Cllr Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, and Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council, who are the only two non-Conservative politicians on the board, said they were not consulted over Mr Fenlon’s dismissal.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Smith said: “We called for this review in September when spending appeared to be running out of control and financial commitments over ambitious and it was denied. It is now even more apparent that this needs to happen urgently.”
Labour member Cllr Herbert added: “Together we believe an independent review and audit is the only way for us and for residents and local councillors across the combined authority to get full detail and restored faith in the combined authority’s finances and how major public funds are being used.”
At today’s Audit & Governance Committee meeting this morning, Mayor Palmer started by saying: “I simply cannot have members of my team going around giving presentations to meetings when it is their opinion, rather than the facts.
“The projects that were mentioned are of course going to go ahead, and I believe that Karl misled not only the committee but the press, who jumped on a good story and reported for all its worth. I understand that, but I simply can’t have people on my team if they are not going to play by the rules.
“At 9am this morning I convened a meeting of the authority executives, the deputy mayor and myself, and by unanimous decision Karl was dismissed, and so I would like to introduce you all to Mr Noel O’Neill who was a s151 officer for the Business Board, and is our new ICFO (interim chief financial officer).”
Cllr Nichola Harrison, Cambridge County Council (Lib Dem) said: “Mr Mayor I have to say that I am deeply disturbed by these revelations today. I arrived here this morning and was told that Mr Fenlon was ‘away on leave’ and ‘at a wedding in Scotland’.
“I do not take very kindly to being lied to by you, or your officers about an executive of this authority.”
Mayor Palmer replied: “As I’ve just told you the decision was made by myself and others at 9am this morning. If you received conflicting information from somebody else, then that is hardly my fault is it?”
Cllr Harrison replied: “I’m not sure that I like your tone of voice towards me. You have barely explained what happened to Karl Fenlon, and in a very matter-of-fact way.
“Now you have brought in Mr O’Neill, which is typical of the shambolic way in which you have run this authority of late, and I am very concerned and shocked at this latest dismissal about a man who stood in this very room on Monday, giving a presentation which presumably you had authorised him to do, and now we are told that he ‘misled’ the committee and the press – this is not good Mr Mayor and I am very deeply concerned,”
Mayor Palmer replied: “I note your concern, Cllr Harrison. Believe me when I tell you that I am not happy with the situation myself. This authority has now had five interim chief financial officers in less than 18 months.
“I had hoped and expected that when Karl came onboard that he would join the team and be the one that we had been looking for – I guess that wasn’t to be.”
Cllr Harrison came back: “No, Mr Mayor I won’t accept that. It simply is not good enough for you and the Conservative majority to just sit here and dismiss the matter in this way – this is very serious indeed…”
Mayor Palmer cut across Cllr Harrison, saying: “This is typical of you Cllr Harrison, you always look for any opportunity to play party politics and score points against the Conservatives.
“I have to act with the best intentions for this authority, that is my job, and if I find that one of my executive officers is misleading a committee then I have to act – which is what I did at 9am this morning.”
A very angry Cllr Harrison, almost shouting back at the mayor, said: “How dare you suggest that a matter a serious as this is being used for political gain, I take great offence at that slur Mr Mayor when I am bringing up legitimate concerns about the way you run this authority in a week when you’ve already had to apologise for your budget overspend.”
Cllr Richard Robinson said: “I am gobsmacked and deeply concerned Mr Mayor about how this must look to our electorate and to the Government. Karl Fenlon was a very professional man, well respected and with an incredibly impressive background – we all thought that the presentation he gave on Monday was one of the best, most open and honest appraisals of the true situation that we’ve seen in months.
“And now you tell us he was ‘misleading a committee’ and ‘not a team player’ – you can’t just sack a chief financial officer like this. I am shocked beyond words.”
Mayor Palmer said: “I shouldn’t have to point out to you Cllr Robinsons that Karl was in fact only an onterim CFO, and that I have said all along I would’ve liked to have had a permanent CFO in that position, and that is now my priority to find that person who will take up the role in a permanent way.”
Cllr Harrison asked: “It is not that long ago we were listening to your explanation of the legal costs incurred and payoff made to former chief executive Martin Whiteley – which is why we were all supposed to be here today – so what revelation is next Mr Mayor, are we going to have a huge payout for Mr Fenlon as well?”
Mayor Palmer replied: “Karl Fenlon, as I have already explained to you, was only an interim CFO on a six month contract valid until February 1, 2019. Any separation award will be constrained within the terms of that contract, but that has yet to be decided”.
Cllr Anthony Mason od South Cambridgeshire District Council (Lib Dem) said: “I too found Karl a very impressive man, he was a s151 Officer and I also feel very uneasy about this news this morning, as I feel many of the members do.
“His presentation on Monday was considered to be a breath of fresh air after so many months of stagnation. I worry that from a government point of view we are going to be seen as incapable of running a financial budget of this level.
“So I want to ask you Mr Mayor, what assurances can you give us as auditors that Mr O’Neill will be any more competent in the job of CFO, if we dismissed a man the majority of us were so impressed in. Is he (Mr O’Neill) a s151 officer? I want real assurances from you, James, not just your opinion.”
Mayor Palmer said: “I assure you Cllr Mason that I am as frustrated by this whole episode as you are. I give you my assurance that I want to find this authority a permanent CFO as soon as possible. It is ridiculous that we have now had five CFOs in less than 18 months, and yes, Mr O’Neill is a s151 pfficer.”
Cllr Mason replied: “You say that want the right kind of person to be doing this job permanently, but we have seen the much publicised resignation of the CEO, and here today is the dismissal of our fourth CFO. These are robust challenges for an organisation and I think you will need to look carefully at the decisions you make over the coming weeks Mr Mayor.
“We are in the spotlight now for sure, and we will be watched at every step of the way.”