Agenda item

To receive reports from and ask questions of Cabinet members with portfolio holder responsibilities, in accordance with Procedure Rules 8.1 and 8.2.


Members asked questions of portfolio holders in accordance with Procedure Rules 8.1 and 8.2 as follows:

·         Councillor Mrs Mayor referred to the fact that virtually all the bus services have been lost in Fenland and several large rural villages and settlements have no public bus service at all. She stated that bus services between Peterborough and Whittlesey have been reduced by more than half and the late weekday bus from Peterborough to Whittlesey is now non-existent, making it very difficult for young people and people working shifts to get to and from home. Councillor Mrs Mayor asked the Leader what action has been taken to reverse the rapid deterioration of bus services across Fenland generally and in Whittlesey in particular? Councillor Boden responded that it is not the responsibility of Fenland District Council to provide bus services, that responsibility has in recent years moved from the County Council to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) and what has disappointed him is that much of the additional subsidy which has been given by the CPCA to bus services has gone to the south of the region rather than to Fenland or Peterborough. He stated that he has taken this up on several occasions with the Mayor and with the staff and the portfolio holder responsible, Councillor Seaton, together with officers of Fenland District Council have also taken this matter up with the relevant officers and councillors at the CPCA. Councillor Boden expressed the view that it has got to the stage where now in meetings before he gets the chance to say his piece the Mayor interrupts and says I know what you are going to say about what is happening in Fenland and it is with some relief that he received a communication from the Mayor in the last couple of weeks, which stated “Your observations about the deterioration of bus services over the last 18 months in Fenland are ones of course that are a real concern to all of us, concerns also felt in other parts of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and are part of a gradual and declining national trend in patronage. The impact in deprived rural areas is considerable as the availability of alternative modes is less, placing more need and dependency on buses for access to education, employment and other services. As you know the situation would have been even worse had we not stepped in to rescue the bus services terminated by Stage Coach last Autumn. Your advice on gaps in the current network across Fenland is helpful to see and I am grateful to you for sharing, the CPCA team met with your officers earlier this month to discuss and I will take each of the three points in turn. On a basic Sunday service it is my understanding that only two services across the subsidised network run on Sundays, one the CPCA inherited from the Peterborough City Council and the other introduced by the previous Mayor at Papworth, I think support for Sunday services is an important question for us to address in Fenland and across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough as part of the bus reform process, with your support we shall do that. Evening bus service between Whittlesey and Peterborough, FDC officers have agreed to find out more details on this including through discussions with Peterborough City Council and I would expect with key businesses in Peterborough as well, they will share further details with CPCA colleagues to inform opinions. Wisbech and Chatteris services, as above there was a proposal in the bus review paper for an introduction of a demand responsive transport trial in Fenland, I understand that the CPCA and FDC officers agreed to work up a DRT option to address these gaps you have identified and this may already have happened if not I will ask when. Assuming the funding for a DRT in Fenland is agreed by the Board we would look to introduce it as soon as possible in 2024/25. You also mentioned school and college services at Turves and Christchurch, the CPCA and CCC teams are meeting regularly now to look at how home to school and scheduled services can be better integrated. Route 7A in South Cambridgeshire is an example of where good progress has been made, that can be a template and I have asked that group to include Turves and Christchurch when looking at other options.” Councillor Boden stated that he will continue to raise this issue on a regular basis at all possible opportunities.

·         Councillor Booth referred to the update regarding the Local Plan and the current recruitment taking place, asking Councillor Mrs Laws if there is a Plan B if suitable candidates cannot be found to fill those posts? He knows for example many years ago the Council hired a firm in its entirety to undertake the Local Plan work but does not think it progressed very far at that time but are there other options as the Council is probably a year behind its schedule and the situation does not seem to be getting much better unfortunately. Councillor Mrs Laws responded that there are advertisements out, disappointingly the Tree Officer vacancy has been advertised for some time with no response to it and there has been no response to the Section 106 Officer or to the Senior Enforcement Officer vacancies. However, she advised that two people have applied for the Principal Planning Officer, there are 9 Senior applications, for the Junior Enforcement there are 4 applications and most importantly which is needed for the Council’s emerging Local Plan is that there are 6 applications for Policy Officers. Councillor Mrs Laws stated that there is always a Plan B and the Council will not be floundering, with it being very important to drive the Local Plan forward because the existing one is not fit for purpose, completely out of date but it has been held up with the staffing issues.

·         Councillor Sennitt Clough asked Councillor Boden in relation to the CPCA that she understands there has been some complaints about the Mayor’s conduct and wondered what has happened in relation to this? Councillor Boden responded that it is not necessarily the original activity which is so threatening not merely to the Mayor but also to the CPCA as a whole, it is the cover up which has taken place since or the secrecy there has been. He stated that secrecy has been really counter productive for the Mayor personally and given the seriousness of what has got out into the public arena there have been quite a number of people on social media who have jumped to the conclusion in the absence of any other information that this is about sexual impropriety on the part of the Mayor and to the best of his knowledge that is totally wrong but people have jumped to that conclusion with the lack of information there has been and so long as there continues to be secrecy and obfuscation on the subject of what has actually happened there will continue to be speculation and people will continue to assume the worst. Councillor Boden advised that he was in a difficult position because he has seen some information in the CPCA Board meetings that have been exempt papers and considered in private session and he has also on occasion been shown reports which he has had to make a confidentiality agreement on that he would not say anything on the subject of what report has been given or shown to him and he is not going to break the confidentiality agreements that he has agreed to nor is he going to breach the requirements of keeping the contents of exempt papers confidential. He is not sure if those items will stay confidential and secret for too long because too many people know about them and are very angry about some of the activities which have taken place which have not come out into the public arena. Councillor Boden advised at the recent meeting of the Board there was a discussion which took place about the complaints which had been made against the Mayor and the report which was conducted by an independent examiner into those complaints but he has not seen this report as it was not made public and a summary was produced which was included in the papers of the CPCA Board, with the summary being quite damning as it said the matters involved were serious, that the Mayor had breached the Code of Conduct and it required the Mayor to make apologies for that but the detail of what was involved was not disclosed. He expressed the view that it seems to him on the spurious grounds of GDPR that the guilty are being kept hidden and the victims are being denied a voice and he is not quite sure how long the victims are going to continue to be denied a voice given how angry some of them are. Councillor Boden stated that he cannot reveal any of the information that he has obtained in those confidential manners but he has continued to receive information that he had not been provided with by the CPCA and he feels he is under no obligation not to say something about this, he has taken legal advice today from FDC officers about what he should and should not say and he is going to be extremely careful about what he does and does not say but even the summary report which was produced by the CPCA was quite damning, it talked about a henchman and it basically said that the Mayor had been aware of the henchman’s behaviour, did not call out that behaviour nor did the Mayor take sufficient and appropriate steps to stop it and that his failure to intervene amounted to him condoning such behaviour and that behaviour was very serious, such as making extremely derogatory and potentially even threatening and defamatory remarks about members of staff. He referred to the statement of accounts produced by the CPCA and if you look at the staff notes you find some very strange entries and these are exit payments, they are not pay or pension, these are not the payments that you get if you are sacked and then you get the entitlement for back pay or for notice periods or for holiday not taken, these are exit payments and it is not unusual if someone departs an organisation for an exit payment to be a payment over and above the amount which they are statutorily entitled to but which has been agreed between the individual and the employer and very often this is connected to a non-disclosure agreement and an astonishing amount of £397,000 was disclosed in last year’s accounts for these exit payments for 4-5 senior individuals and there were others as well. Councillor Boden stated that an authority will not spend that amount of money unless it believes it is effectively saving money by doing so which says something about the state of affairs that the CPCA has been in with some of its staff and with some of the departures and at the Board meeting he asked if it would be permitted for him to ask questions or make comments about the state of health of some of the former employees of the CPCA who were victims of the situation and he was told this was not appropriate to talk about in public and he further asked if it was appropriate to talk about the amounts of money which were spent on home security for members of staff and was told again that this was not appropriate for public discussion. He has been provided with more information than he was provided with from the CPCA and some of the things he has seen have been absolutely appalling, such as the CPCA felt it was appropriate to pay for Amazon to deliver a personal alarm to a 21 year old young woman with autism who required it because of feeling under threat and he feels that things like this are outrageous and they should come out into the open but he is prohibited from saying anything which he has learned directly from the CPCA. Councillor Boden made the point that it is not alleged that the Mayor himself was responsible for those threats but he feels that the whole thing stinks, it stinks of a cover up and it stinks of secrecy and these things do come out in the end but it will not be from him. He expressed the view that the current position is wholly unsatisfactory and he believes further investigation is required and is quite confident that the truth will come out and it is better to be honest about what happened than to try and cover it up.

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