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Press and public excluded as Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority discuss slashing staff by a quarter

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An “outrageous” lack of transparency at the combined authority has been slammed as they look to cut almost a quarter of their staffing budget.

Today (February 13), the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s employment committee voted to exclude members of the press and public from discussions of major restructuring at the authority.

Councillor Lewis Herbert. (5587215)
Councillor Lewis Herbert. (5587215)

A new staffing budget of £4.8 million has been agreed for 2019/20, which is £1.5 million less than the anticipated staffing structure in June 2018, which sat at £6.3 million. This amounts to a cut of about 24 per cent.

Press and public, as well as members of the authority’s scrutiny committee, however, were excluded from the discussions, a decision board member Lewis Herbert branded “outrageous”.

Coun Herbert said: “I think it is outrageous, there are lots of issues here. £1.5million of cuts is significant. I do think it is outrageous we are not going to have this discussion in public.”

Coun Herbert had proposed to split the item into two parts, only discussing confidential matters of individuals’ employment in a confidential session while keeping the substantial parts of the discussion public.

Councillor Anna Bailey. (7156164)
Councillor Anna Bailey. (7156164)

Coun Anna Bailey, however, said it would be difficult to have a “free flowing” conversation if members were having to be careful about what they said for fear of accidentally revealing something that should be confidential.

“It would be incredibly difficult to have a free flowing discussion when there are names and jobs in the papers,” said Coun Bailey. “I’d rather we had a free flowing discussion, details of which will come out in due course.”

Coun Herbert’s suggestion failed to get seconded. A proposal from Coun Bailey to hold the discussions in a closed session was seconded by Coun Steve Count and accepted by the committee.

The cuts come after the combined authority was criticised last year for spending £7million in operational costs when mayor James Palmer had initially promised the authority could be run for as little as £850,000.

Mr Palmer said the staffing restructure would help the authority be more efficient, allowing it to concentrate on delivery of “key housing, transport infrastructure and skills priorities”.

“To deliver on our transformational agenda for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, we must ensure we have an organisation which is fit, lean and focused on delivery,” said Mr Palmer. “Our new staffing budget is part of that sound platform from which we will make good on our key priorities.”

Members of the combined authority’s own overview and scrutiny committee found themselves unable to attend the closed session as they do not sit on the employment committee.

Councillor Lucy Nethsingha (6160615)
Councillor Lucy Nethsingha (6160615)

Coun Lucy Nethsingha, chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee, said: “It is difficult for scrutiny to do our job properly if we can’t see the confidential appendices.”

Coun Nethsingha said she had been advised the scrutiny committee would not be able to see the papers until they were in the public domain. She said there is already concern about transparency at the authority, and said excluding scrutiny committee members from meetings like this is not helpful.

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