Labour mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority begins by appointing Conservative deputy
The new Labour mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority has appointed a Conservative deputy, describing it as “local politics done differently”.
In one of his first acts, Dr Nik Johnson, who caused a shock when he ousted the Tory mayor, James Palmer, at the May elections, will be supported by Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, the Conservative leader of Peterborough City Council.
The move was approved by the Combined Authority board on Wednesday (June 2).
Dr Johnson said: “This is local politics done differently. A successful Combined Authority is one that collaborates across traditional political divides”.
But his attempt to appoint an unelected figure to the role of non-statutory deputy mayor was put on hold.
He sought the board’s approval to appoint the chair of the business board, Austen Adams, who is not an elected representative, to take on the second deputy role.
This would have required the constitution to be changed to allow any member of the board, rather than just the representatives of the seven councils which make up the Combined Authority, to hold the position.
But the proposal was withdrawn after a number of board members argued that not enough time had been provided to consider the change.
Conservative councillor and leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, Anna Bailey, said board members received the proposed change by email 25 minutes before the meeting, and said she felt it was being made “on the hoof”.
The leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Lib Dem councillor Bridget Smith, said of the proposal, “I don’t think this is appropriate”.
She said she was “unhappy” with the proposal for two reasons, the notice period given meant it was a “surprise” and that “I feel that the very title of non-statutory deputy implies an elected political role”. She said she “might” feel differently about it given more time and the chance to seek advice.
The leader of Fenland District Council, Conservative councillor Chris Boden, said he welcomed the suggestion of Mr Adams as the non-statutory deputy mayor, and said: “I think it would be a very good choice”.
But he said he was “concerned there has been a lack of co-operation here, saying the mayor had “every opportunity” over previous days to communicate the idea.
“I am exceptionally reluctant to change the constitution on the hoof,” he said. “I can’t agree to a change in the constitution when I haven’t even seen the wording of the change of the constitution. It isn’t an acceptable means of moving forward, it’s poor governance”.
Dr Johnson said: “I have been very impressed by Austen Adams, and the way he has approached myself, the willingness to work with the combined authority going forward, and I think he deserves the recognition of that post, even though the likelihood of it ever having a definitive decision-making process is very low.”
While the mayor withdrew the proposal, he said he intends to “bring it back at the earliest opportunity”.
“I’m not here to start arguments,” he said. “I am here to be collaborative.”
He said: “In principle I think it is a very strong proposal. It recognises the importance of the Combined Authority working with the business board”.
A change to the constitution requires a vote in favour by at least two-thirds of all board members present and voting. The Combined Authority has nine voting members, four Conservative, two Labour members, including the mayor, and two Liberal Democrats, as well as the apolitical chair of the business board.
Cllr Fitzgerald was also confirmed as the Combined Authority’s new lead member for economic growth.
The leader of the county council, Liberal Democrat councillor Lucy Nethsingha, was appointed lead member for skills.
And the leader of Cambridge City Council, Labour councillor Lewis Herbert, was appointed as lead member for housing and communities.
Cllr Fitzgerald said: “It is a real privilege and an honour for me to take on the role of deputy Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. I was one of the people that was involved in its creation and there is now an opportunity for me to get back involved and be more hands on once again.
“I look forward to working with the new mayor Dr Nik Johnson as I believe all involved with the Combined Authority have a big job ahead of us to improve the health and wellbeing outcomes for people and hopefully at the same time reduce inequalities across the whole of Cambridgeshire.”
He added: “I will have a particular focus on Peterborough for sure, but I do recognise the wider responsibilities that come with the role and I will do my very best to do what’s right for everyone in Cambridgeshire.”