Scrutiny of Peterborough metro mayor’s ball causes row

Mayor James Palmer
Mayor James Palmer
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The handling of the finances of the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s ball may have caused the mayoral authority “serious reputational harm”.

Last year £16,000 of taxpayer’s money was spent on a private ball for PTSD999, a social enterprise which raises money for service men and women suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mayor James Palmer, leader of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, who hosted the ball, defended the event. But some were less certain. Last Month Patrick Arran, the authority’s interim legal counsel and monitoring officer, said he would look further into the rules after claims the authority had effectively “underwritten” the event with public cash.

When the report was returned it found claims the fundraising ball had been in aid of charity (when in fact PTSD999 is a business) were “made in good faith, albeit erroneously so”. Mr Arran’s report also noted there had been “no risk to the public purse” from the event.

Yesterday (Monday, February 25) Lib Dem Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, chairwoman of the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee, defended the decision to devote time and resources to the ball as members of the committee criticised the decision.

Conservative Cllr Chris Boden, who represents Whittlesey at Fenland District Council, hit out at Cllr Nethsingha. He accused her of trying to score “party political” points with the issue of the ball, and said she risked losing his confidence as chairwoman.

“At the last meeting I said I was concerned this was being used as a party political issue, rather than to scrutinise the office of the mayor,” said Cllr Boden. “You have allowed us to be distracted away from other matters that need scrutiny.”

Cllr Boden said the report into the ball is “clear”, saying there had been no cost to the public. He claimed the situation is a “non-issue” that should not have taken up so much of the committee’s time.

“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 Cllr 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.”

Cllr Nethsingha defended the time the committee had spent looking into the issue, saying the public interest in properly scrutinising the authority’s spending needed to be considered.

“This has been discussed energetically in the public domain,” said Cllr Nethsingha. “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.”

Cllr Nethsingha said the way the ball had been managed may have caused the combined authority “serious reputational damage” and said there is a “whole range of issues” that needed addressing. She said she is also concerned that another ball is being planned this year, and said the “errors” of the previous ball had not yet been sorted out.

Josh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporting Service