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Government formally calls on the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to provide assurances over improvements

A formal notice has been issued to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority by the government after “significant concerns” were highlighted by external auditors last year.

The best value notice was issued today (Tuesday, January 24) to ensure the Combined Authority provides assurances over improvements.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson is currently on a three month leave of absence to receive treatment for an ongoing medical condition Picture: Keith Heppell
Mayor Dr Nik Johnson is currently on a three month leave of absence to receive treatment for an ongoing medical condition Picture: Keith Heppell

Max Soule, of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), said a failure to “demonstrate continuous improvement” could result in government intervention.

The Combined Authority says work on its improvement plan has been under way for several months.

External auditors Ernst and Young found “significant weaknesses” in governance arrangements at the Combined Authority last year. It said without “appropriate leadership capacity... there is significant doubt” the authority can carry out its duties.

The auditors comments came after a whistleblowing inquiry and following the resignation of chief executive Eileen Milner, who quit her £203,000-a-year role after a few months in the post. A probe into the conduct of mayor Dr Nik Johnson remains ongoing.

Mr Soule, the deputy director of local government stewardship, says the auditors findings, along with “significant delivery concerns” in some of the Combined Authority’s programmes and concerns in respect of “procurement of services”.

The notice also explains that DLUHC will be taking a “precautionary approach” to the transfer of funding to the Combined Authority until “there are appropriate plans in place to reach a resolution”.

It calls on the authority to “deliver at pace against the improvement framework and the action plan” and endeavour to achieve “strong partnership working”.

“We expect the authority to continue in its efforts to conduct investigations at pace and to implement cultural change, particularly in relation to the relationships between officers and members and with the mayor’s office,” Mr Soule writes.

The notice will remain in place for 12 months, after which time it can be reissued if further assurance is needed. The notice can be withdrawn or escalated at any point.

A spokesperson for the Combined Authority said: “This notice clarifies more formally DLUHC concerns, already shared with the Combined Authority following the Ernst and Young Auditor’s letter issued to the Combined Authority on June 1, 2022 and historical matters. These highlighted significant concerns regarding the governance of the organisation and the need to engage with the department to provide assurance of improvement.

“The issues raised in the letter are those that have been highlighted in the Combined Authority’s Improvement Plan. The Combined Authority has been working at pace to address these issues and steps are already under way which have been identified by the interim CEO, Gordon Mitchell, to address the areas of concern.

“A proposal for an initial Improvement Plan was agreed by the Combined Authority board on October 30 which addresses the governance issues and other areas identified for improvement. Implementation of the Improvement Plan has been under way for several months.

“An Independent Improvement Board (IIB) set up to oversee the improvement work, met earlier this month for the first time to review progress, and the Combined Authority are fully committed to implementing their recommendations. Whilst there is still much to do, good progress is being made and the IIB is supportive of the direction the improvement is taking.

“We welcome the acknowledgement of the initial steps taken by the Combined Authority in the notice.”

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