Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority interim CEO warned organisation in ‘bad shape’
The new interim CEO of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority has been warned about how troubled the organisation is during his first meeting with members.
Gordon Mitchell attended the Combined Authority’s overview and scrutiny meeting yesterday (Monday, July 25) to introduce an ‘Improvement Framework’.
He heard numerous welcomes to his new role which has a contracted day rate of £1,350 plus VAT. However, along with the welcoming, came stark warnings from members of how difficult the job ahead will be.
Mr Mitchell said: “Clearly I’ve come into the organisation when lots of things are in play including a set of circumstances that has seen the previous CEO leave her position because of a variety of issues, and serious matters much of which was meant to be confidential.
“Through various media however, including a whistleblowing enquiry, leaks from within and a code of conduct enquiry, these have become public knowledge, and this has come to a head through a letter from the external auditor who has taken the view that the governance of the authority is no longer fit for purpose.
“In introducing today’s Improvement Framework you will be aware that this document will be put before several regulatory bodies including the external auditor and DLUHC (Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities) over the coming weeks, and basically it outlines how we need to undertake a self-assessment process and a formal improvement program.
“It is vital therefore that the mayor and all members take this matter as very serious – the idea that commissioners taking decisions in an organisation that’s supposed to be democratically guided is quite wrong – but those are the sorts of measures that the government is considering.”
Cllr Steve Count (Conservative, Fenland District Council), said: “I’ve described the CPCA before as a sinking ship and I’m really quite demoralised by just how far it has deteriorated – it’s in a bad shape at the moment, and I really hope that with somebody like Gordon at the helm we’ll be able to turn it around.”
Cllr Martin Hassall (Lib Dem, Huntingdonshire District Council), added: “Likewise, I welcome you to the job and wish you all the best as you’re going to need it – with your obvious vast experience in this area just how bad are things; can they be turned around without commissioners being brought in?”
Mr Mitchell replied: “A few weeks in I honestly don’t know all the answers – there are still some stones to turn over, and there is a layer of general ‘chat’ and ‘chatter’ at the moment much of which isn’t accurate.
“But, that said, if we replace the ‘chatter’ with facts and good communication in terms of confidence we will have to wait and see what level of intervention DLUHC will opt for.
“From the brief discussions I’ve had with them, they’re content that you’ve appointed me, and the things that I want initially to do are manifested in this report – but we’ll have to wait and see and have a review of the situation in mid-September.”
Mr Mitchell takes on a role that has been fraught with problems through the tenure of both former mayor James Palmer and current mayor Dr Nik Johnson, who was elected last year.
Since the Combined Authority was set up five years ago, seven senior officers have either resigned or been fired.
Dr Johnson is currently facing a probe into his conduct, but has vowed not to walk away from the role.
There have been at least 28 staff members resign this year, and 36 vacancies at the organisation are currently being advertised, including CEO and CFO.
Former chief executive Eileen Milner quit her £203,000-a-year role in April, saying it was “simply not possible” for her to remain in the role.
Mr Mitchell was previously chief executive at Nottingham City Council and Bracknell Forest Borough Council, and has also held the post of interim chief executive at Tewkesbury, Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council and Great Yarmouth as well as the interim chief executive at Oxford City Council, and also have extensive experience in the fields of education, economic development, and regeneration.
The Improvement Framework will come back to the committee in August.