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Government ‘has its eye’ on future of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority

The government is “watching” Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, raising concerns that it is on “borrowed time”.

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Dr Nik Johnson Picture: Keith Heppell
Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Dr Nik Johnson Picture: Keith Heppell

Cambridgeshire County Council leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha warned members that her “huge concern and it’s growing” was that the Combined Authority was in the spotlight because it had been unable to come to a consensus about “what we were agreeing on”.

“And we are still on borrowed time,” she told a meeting of the Combined Authority board on Wednesday. “We are being watched by government to see whether there are things that we can agree on.”

Her concerns came during a debate about the sustainable growth ambition statement, which sets out the Combined Authority’s vision that will be used to define future decisions.

The statement restates the Devolution Deal commitment to double the size of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough economy within 25 years from the date of the deal but states: “In the past, we have tended to focus narrowly on the target of doubling GVA, and neglect the significance of the investments we are making.”

It adds: “The investments we pick reflect our values and are the foundations of our future.

Bridget Smith leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambourne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (54717179)
Bridget Smith leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambourne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (54717179)

“The Combined Authority’s strategy is therefore unashamedly values-driven.”

It also describes the six themes which inform the Combined Authority’s investment programme, rooted in the mayoral values of ‘compassion, co-operation and community’.

But the paper setting out the statement was withdrawn by the Combined Authority’s Labour leader and mayor Dr Nik Johnson at the board meeting after several members indicated that they would not be able to support it. This was amid concerns surrounding equality of growth across the region, the downgrading of growth priorities and the response to input from business.

Cllr Nethingha, along with South Cambridgeshire District Council leader, fellow Liberal Democrat Cllr Bridget Smith, felt the statement should be adopted with amendments.

Cambridgeshire County Council leader Lucy Nethsingha
Cambridgeshire County Council leader Lucy Nethsingha

Former Cambridge City Council leader, Labour’s Cllr Lewis Herbert, said a meeting should be set up between the Combined Authority board and its Business Board.

Cllr Smith said: “We’re not just talking about tweaking. It can be much more major than that. The alternative is to do a blank sheet of paper piece of work. And quite honestly, I think that’s going to take so long that it will end up being counterproductive.”

The Conservative leader of Peterborough City Council Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald added: “What I would say to the mayor is the mayor needs to put more effort into – and I know diaries are tight – about reaching a stage before we get to these meetings where this is agreed or not agreed.

“This is an important document. So I think the way this is going is it will be voted down on the basis of what I’m hearing, whereas there’s an opportunity to pause here. So I will send this message to DLUHC (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) and anybody else watching. I, for one, want to see this Combined Authority successful. There is an opportunity here to pause rather than vote it out, which is then not a refusal in terms of government eyes.”

The Combined Authority passed the first of its scheduled government reviews in July last year as part of the national Gateway Review process.

The next Gateway Review will evaluate completed interventions in judging the authority’s performance, with an expectation of evidence of outcomes.

Austen Adams, chair of the business board, told the meeting that he was “disappointed” with the statement and that it had not changed to reflect the comments made by his board. He said the statement was a “very important key document that will be scrutinised by the business community in particular, who are looking for guidance or understanding of our sense of direction”.

Dr Johnson was elected in May 2021 to the position of mayor, overthrowing Conservative James Palmer.

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