£400m Greater Cambridge Partnership funding may be withheld if our political leaders can't stop squabbling
Government fires a warning shot to Combined Authority and GCP
Government ministers say local leaders need to prove they can work better together before they receive more funding for new transport and infrastructure schemes.
Leaders of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) have come under pressure after a letter from James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for housing, communities and local government, suggested the Government may not allocate millions of pounds of future funding if they are not confident the two groups can work together harmoniously in the public interest.
Recently, there has been tension between the authority and the GCP after the Conservative mayor, James Palmer, called for a pause of GCP transport schemes, leading to fears not enough was being done to tackle looming transport issues.
Mr Brokenshire sent a letter to the Combined Authority board and the Greater Cambridge Partnership (formerly City Deal) last week.
In it, Mr Brokenshire said he had seen “various statements and correspondence which have been critical of the level of collaborative working between local leaders”.
Mr Brokenshire pointed out that the next tranche of up to £400million GCP funding is “not guaranteed” and said future money would depend on a gateway assessment.
The assessment would look at progress on delivery, as well as government confidence in the “effective collaboration and delivery capability of local partners.”
Mr Brokenshire said: “Clearly, you will need to determine your priorities locally, and I understand that there is a need to consider the extent to which current local interventions align to the area’s future transport strategy.
“However, in conducting the review outlined in the interim transport statement, I would urge you to take every possible effort to ensure that momentum is not lost in accommodating the significant levels of economic and housing growth that are expected in Greater Cambridge in the short-term and, in the absence of a LEP, to give full consideration to private sector concerns.”
James Palmer, mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, acknowledged there was a need for the two groups to align their aims.
Mr Palmer said: “As mayor my view continues to be that measures desperately need to be delivered in the short term to ease the significant transport problems across Greater Cambridge.
“However, these measures must not jeopardise the ability of the local transport authority to develop plans to provide a world class public transport system that fully takes into account the significant growth that is anticipated over the next decade. That is the reason for the short-term pause to ensure alignment.
“I have been in discussions with Government officials since the latest letter and am confident that we can find a way forward. Frankly there is no alternative to finding a way forward. Circumstances demand it.”
Mr Palmer’s interim transport strategy was called in by a Combined Authority scrutiny panel, but Tory councillors failed to turn up so it could not sit.
Meanwhile, Lewis Herbert, Labour leader of Cambridge City Council, and former chairman of the GCP, defended the GCP’s record, saying it could point to several areas in which it had made significant progress on transport schemes.
He agreed that the two groups needed to work together, and said the GCP had gone out of its way to try to work with the Combined Authority on transport schemes like the proposed city metro.
Cllr Herbert said: “We are grateful for the Government clarifying this.
“It represents significant concerns from the GCP and other organisations in Cambridge business and our two universities, who have written to ministers because they don’t see any cause for this pause.
“We can evidence major progress since the GCP has started. On transport, we have put a lot of effort into aligning our transport priorities with the mayor.
“Where we need input from the mayor is in understanding whether it is a metro or light rail he supports.
“There is also a question of funding. We should not rule out public funding.
“We do not know whether the land value cap will deliver the funds. Cambridge needs public transport.”
Cllr Bridget Smith, Liberal Democrat leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, sits on the Combined Authority board and had previously called for the groups to stop squabbling or risk alienating their paymasters. She noted that the Combined Authority and GCP wanted the same things, and said this was a question of public money, noting that people’s lives would be affected by the decisions they made.
“It is quite obvious we all want the same thing,” said Cllr Smith.
“We all want better transport and housing and economic growth.
“The important message in this is that the combined authority is not just the mayor. It is a partnership.
“The Combined Authority and the GCP are two professional bodies working hard to find a way to work together. This is public money we are talking about, and it affects people’s lives.”
More by this authorJosh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter