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Effort to persuade Dr Nik Johnson to drop trebling of his mayoral precept in Cambridgeshire is defeated

A challenge to plans to treble the region’s annual bus tax was defeated at a Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) meeting today (Monday, 29 January).

Conservative Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, the former leader of Peterborough City Council (PCC), asked Labour mayor Dr Nik Johnson, head of the Combined Authority, to reconsider his proposal to triple his portion of residents’ council tax bills.

Conservative Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, former leader of Peterborough City Council
Conservative Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, former leader of Peterborough City Council

Dr Johnson – who was told last year to apologise for breaching the authority’s code of conduct - wants to change the mayoral precept so that the ‘average’ band D household is charged £36 this year - up from £12 last year, when the charge was first introduced.

He has said that the £11m this tax will generate will go towards bus network improvements and fund struggling routes such as the No 5 connecting Peterborough and Yaxley.

But Cllr Fitzgerald, who sits on the Combined Authority’s overview and scrutiny committee, said that Dr Johnson should ask central government for more before turning to taxpayers.

“Do you think you failed to get the government funding required, which is why you’re now looking to local taxpayers to make up the shortfall for your shortcomings?” he asked the mayor at a committee meeting.

Dr Johnson said that he was “obviously disappointed” that the authority did not receive Bus Strategy Improvement Plan (BSIP) funding from the Department of Transport (DfT) when it was distributed in 2022 but that it has made other successful bids to the government.

Labour mayor Dr Nik Johnson in Ely. Picture: Keith Heppell
Labour mayor Dr Nik Johnson in Ely. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I don’t think it’s necessarily to do with the individual who’s currently the mayor of the Combined Authority why those decisions are made,” he added.

Cllr Fitzgerald called these comments “naive”, adding: “You’re the captain; you’re steering the ship. I know from the bus minister myself that the Combined Authority did not get bus service improvement funding because of a lack of ambition.”

Cllr Martin Smart (Lab, King’s Hedges), a representative from Cambridge City Council, said that “Conservative members complaining about a Conservative government failing to fund us seems somewhat ironic” while fellow city councillor Cllr Cameron Holloway (Lab, Newnham) added that money from government would still be taxpayers’ money.

Dr Johnson claimed his tax was “fair”.

“We could have asked for more but there is a responsibility to recognise that there is a cost of living crisis, so I think the proposal that’s on the table is one that’s fair but also gives a good distribution for the whole of the area,” he said.

Cllr Fitzgerald’s recommendation to ask the mayor to reconsider raising his precept was defeated in a vote with four in favour and eight against at the overview and scrutiny committee meeting.

It will be put before the Combined Authority board on Wednesday (31 January) and, if approved, is expected to come into effect in May.

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