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Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority in ‘meltdown’ amid ‘significant weaknesses’ - and mayor urged to step down

A further call has been made for Cambridgeshire’s mayor to stand down after external auditors found “significant weaknesses” in governance arrangements.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (57205500)
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (57205500)

Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, the Conservative leader of Peterborough City Council and former Combined Authority deputy mayor, told an extraordinary meeting of the authority today (Wednesday, June 8) that Labour mayor Dr Nik Johnson should “consider stepping down and resigning because in my view, he’s not fit and able to do the job as mayor of this authority”. The mayor was not present at the meeting upon guidance.

His comments came following the publication of a letter from associate partner at Ernst and Young (EY) Mark Hodgson to the independent chair of Combined Authority’s audit and governance committee, John Pye.

Mr Hodgson: “We have commenced our audit work for the financial year ended 31 March 2022 and have identified a significant weakness in CPCA’s governance arrangements.

“We believe this weakness is pervasive as it could lead to a significant impact on the quality or effectiveness of services or on its reputation and could expose the authority to financial risk or loss.”

He said there were concerns CPCA “has insufficient capacity, capability and an inappropriate culture to support the effective governance and operation of the organisation and how it discharges its statutory services”.

Cllr Fitzgerald added that the authority is “in meltdown” and that a decision to work with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on an improvement in closed session was not unanimously supported by the board.

He said: “This authority is in meltdown, which leads me on to the final point that we agreed to formally adopt an improvement panel and you’ve got to ask yourself why that is.

“And that wholly has to be levelled at the mayor’s doorstep. So I’d say to him and I did say publicly, and it’s not personal, it’s not politics, this authority is just not working. I will do all I can and I will cooperate with my chief executives and sure the other leaders will with their chief executives to try and improve matters. But I don’t think it will improve while the mayor is the mayor, because I think he’s a better doctor than he is a mayor.”

Dr Nik Johnson, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Nik Johnson, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. Picture: Keith Heppell

Deputy mayor Cllr Lewis Herbert, who was chairing the meeting, responded: “There is a difference of view on this point and if the challenges that the Combined Authority faced were simple, then some may agree. But it is not in the view of a number of us that the mayor is the sole issue within this Combined Authority.

“The range of issues that were raised in the Ernst and Young letter and the need for us to have discussions with DLUHC along with the fellow Combined Authority local authorities is important. I do not accept the Combined Authority is in meltdown.

“I do not accept that painting that picture assists the discussions. I believe that there are some serious issues to be addressed and those discussions with DLUHC are an important stage in that.”

Cllr Herbert, the former Labour leader of Cambridge City Council, paid tribute to the work of the staff and the organisation and added: “I’m confident that the dialogue with the government will see significant improvements to the Combined Authority and benefits to our residents.”

“It couldn’t get any worse,” responded Cllr Fitzgerald.

The extraordinary meeting was then closed.

The mayor, however, has pledged that he will not walk away in his first speech to the board since the conduct probe was revealed.

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