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Mayor brewing a plan to reform the public sector across Cambridgeshire

By Gemma Gardner

Shire Hall, Cambridge . Picture Keith Heppell
Shire Hall, Cambridge . Picture Keith Heppell

An independent panel chaired by the chief executive of brewers Adnams will be tasked with looking at public sector reform in Cambridgeshire.

Andy Wood, who negotiated the county’s devolution deal last year, will investigate the issues surrounding the number of councils in the region and their functions, which currently cost around £2.2bn each year.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor James Palmer told the Cambridge Independent that the panel will report back to the combined authority in September in what he considers a “huge priority”.

“Public sector reform is a key part of the devolved combined authority agenda. It’s obvious to anybody,” he said.

But he stopped short of detailing exactly what Mr Wood might look at but explained that, for example, moving the responsibility for adult social care away from the county council could save around £200m a year.

Last month, the government gave its backing to proposals for a new unitary authority to replace the existing county council and four district councils in Buckinghamshire.

Meanwhile financial issues at Northamptonshire County Council have prompted the government to call for the authority to be scrapped.

“Just because other county councils have failed doesn’t mean that ours will. But we have to look at every single scenario. We have to try and provide a solution to multi-tier government, which we have now,” explained Mr Palmer, who said money was not the issue at this stage, despite the county council facing a negative RSG in 2019/20.

He continued: “I think Andy, who I’ve got a lot of trust in, will look at best practice not just in the UK but around the world.

“The system that we have has been in place since 1974 and it may well have been the right system in 1974, but the question is whether it’s the system for 2018.

“You don’t make changes lightly, but you have to look at what is the best way for delivering the service to the people of Cambridgeshire and what is going to give the best benefit to the taxpayer.

“That’s the brief I’ve given Andy. It will give us a very exciting option for the autumn.”

Other councils, which includes parish, town, district, city and a unitary authority, will get the chance to have their say on the plans, said Mr Palmer.

“I’m not a dictator!” he smiled. “This isn’t a situation where I can just say this is what we’re going to do and you’ll have to lump it.”


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