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Mayor James Palmer is creating ‘banana skins’ for the GCP, says Cambridge City Council leader Lewis Herbert




The mayor of the Combined Authority has been accused of “seeking to take over the Greater Cambridge Partnership” and creating “banana skins” to trip it up, by the leader of Cambridge City Council.

Labour leader Lewis Herbert made the comments as he updated the city’s strategy and resources scrutiny committee on Wednesday (July 6).

Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cllr Herbert was giving his regular update on the work of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, which owing to the disruption caused by the pandemic covered a larger time period than normal.

He spoke positively about the Combined Authority’s collaboration on the county’s response to the pandemic, but was critical of the Conservative mayor James Palmer’s relationship with the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), especially when it comes to the dispute over the proposed Cambourne to Cambridge transport route.

In a moment of cross-party unity, Cllr Herbert was joined in his criticism by the leader of the opposition group, Liberal Democrat Tim Bick, who represents the council on the GCP’s joint assembly.

Cllr Bick said: [The mayor] seems to be set on making that whole area of public policy some sort of cat and mouse game, which is not having a beneficial impact on public accountability or public understanding of the actual issues that are involved, and I think it’s most regrettable especially given that the GCP has repeatedly been given the lead on these projects in collaboration with the mayor.”

He added: “Clearly the GCP is the body to continue to proceed along this path and it would only be wonderful if the mayor was willing to collaborate in a genuine way about doing that for the interests of the area.”

Cllr Herbert said: “I do think that there has been something of a thread over the last few months that the mayor has been seeking to take over the Greater Cambridge Partnership, and I don’t think that was an appropriate route, and it’s unfortunate that some of this is discussed in the public arena before the mayor has actually raised some of the issues.”

Mayor James Palmer. Picture: Keith Heppell
Mayor James Palmer. Picture: Keith Heppell

He added: “It does feel since Christmas that the mayor has just been trying to create banana skins here and there and try and trip up – if that’s the right mixture of words – the Greater Cambridge Partnership.”

Cllr Herbert said the mayor’s relationship with the GCP has cost the taxpayer.

He said: “We also need to work closely with the mayor because we share the aspiration of a bold public transport and metro system in the future. But I do think that some of the manoeuvres end up costing both time and a lot of money. I think quite a lot of the last two years’ extra cost on some of the projects is down to the fact that we believe that the mayor could work better with us and we have made every effort I think to try and work with the mayor on some of these projects.”

He added: “There’s an overall issue about whether or not the Combined Authority is being effective in the use of public funds and in some of its delivery, but it has done a really good job in being part of the partnership responding to the epidemic.”

The mayor and GCP have publicly clashed over the Cambourne to Cambridge scheme, which the GCP has said has caused a delay that will make its planned 2024 opening date “unlikely”.

Mr Palmer dismissed the criticisms as “blatant electioneering”.

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