External review into spending of Peterborough’s mayoral authority

Mayor James Palmer
Mayor James Palmer
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The spending of the Peterborough’s mayoral authority will come under even greater scrutiny with an external review following the dismissal of the chief financial officer, amid claims the organisation is in “chaos”.

Today (Tuesday, December 11) it was announced that external auditors would shine a spotlight on the accounts and spending of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CA) following claims the organisation, which oversees major housing and transport projects, is in “chaos”.

On November 30 Karl Fenlon, the chief financial officer at the CA was officially “dismissed” from the organisation, making him the fifth chief financial officer to leave the authority since it was set up in 2017.

Today, Cllr Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council and investment and finance portfolio holder at the combined authority told a meeting of the full county council that there was to be an external review into the CA’s finances.

Cllr Count was responding to questions from Lib Dem Cambridge city councillor Rod Cantrill, who said the authority was in “chaos”.

Cllr Count said Mr Fenlon’s departure had been “abrupt”, but said the organisation was “hardly in chaos”. He said that, in the spirit of accountability and transparency, the authority had committed to an external review, as well as an ongoing internal review which has been going since September.

It is hoped auditors will be appointed soon, and findings can be presented to the authority’s board in the new year.

James Palmer, mayor of the combined authority, said: “Following the departure of the interim chief financial officer I have decided it is prudent in the circumstances to seek an independent review of the budget of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to ensure there is confidence in the work that took place during his time at the authority, especially the preparation of the Medium Term Financial Strategy.

“We will move quickly to appoint external auditors to carry out that review immediately, which will be delivered and presented to the combined authority board in the new year, giving us an independent check and balance on our financial position.”

Mr Palmer said there have “understandably been questions” surrounding the budget position of the CA since the departure of Mr Fenlon.

“I believe we now need clarity around the assumptions and narrative of the recently-agreed four-year Medium Term Financial Strategy, presented by the former interim CFO at the combined authority’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting in November,” said Mr Palmer. “We expect this review to confirm there is a fully balanced budget in line with proper regulation.”

Mr Palmer said the external financial report will complement the “more thorough review work” that has been ongoing internally at the CA since September and which commenced soon after the departure of the former chief executive.

The current internal review is being led by joint interim chief executive John Hill, who is sharing the role with Kim Sawyer. The review includes looking at the budget, staffing, performance management and governance processes.

“This is a sensible and needed measure,” said Mr Palmer. “That review is already delivering results and the combined authority has so far implemented changes to performance reporting, project management and reporting and budgeting. The balanced four-year Medium Term Financial Strategy was also one of the key improvements that has come from the joint interim chief executive’s ongoing review.

“Be assured that nothing is on hold while both of these reviews are being carried out and our work on delivering on our transformational agenda for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough continues at pace.”

Josh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporting Service.