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Mayor James Palmer writes on the costs of the Combined Authority of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

RMG Photography - March 2018..James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough..Pic - Richard Marsham..RMG Photography - Tel : 07798 758711.www.rmg-photography.co.uk. (5730111)
RMG Photography - March 2018..James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough..Pic - Richard Marsham..RMG Photography - Tel : 07798 758711.www.rmg-photography.co.uk. (5730111)

Since the Combined Authority was launched in the spring of 2017, we have seen both new challenges and new opportunities that could not have been anticipated.

For example, it was not expected we would have to absorb the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership within our first year.

But it is also fair to say that I was wrong in my estimations when I said before my election that the authority could be run on a staffing structure costing less than £1 million per year.

And while it is clear that with our increased responsibilities comes an increased staffing overhead, I agree that those costs need to come down.

However recent media reporting has suggested that only now are we taking action and reviewing those costs. This is not the case. Our staffing budget has been subject to scrutiny for some months now, and our joint chief executive John Hill is currently carrying out a review of our staffing structure, including taking into account our new responsibilities. My expectation is that the review will result in staff costs coming down.

But the Government has also recognised the significant responsibilities placed on the Combined Authority and that’s why last year they provided us with an additional £2 million, through the Mayoral Capacity Fund, to meet some of those staffing costs.

There have also been reports of the perceived high salaries of some of the Combined Authority’s senior team. As mayor, I do not decide how much someone gets paid, but what I do believe in is recruiting the very best people we can to deliver on the scale, and with the ambition, that is needed in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

That scale and ambition is reflected in bringing forward extraordinary transport infrastructure like the CAM Metro, and pushing ahead with significant upgrades to road and rail that were previously thought out of reach.

We are tasked with doubling the size of our economy over 25 years, and of accelerating house building rates by delivering new homes of all types, including affordable, to ease the housing crisis.

The recommendations in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER) report, all of which have been endorsed by council leaders in the Combined Authority area, highlight the fact that radical action is needed if our growing economy is to continue to thrive.

The delivery of a metro, a dualled A10 and A47, new rail stations at Soham and Cambridge South, a brand new University at Peterborough and bringing forward at least 2,500 affordable homes with a £170 million fund, exemplifies the transformational schemes needed. This will see billions of pounds invested across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough over the next ten to 12 years. And to be clear, this work is already happening and our staffing costs will in no way impact the financing of these projects.

There have been reports about projects like the Metro, and A47 and A10 dualling being “unfunded”. I hope it is understood that the Combined Authority unfortunately doesn’t have the billions of pounds needed to finance these schemes sitting in the bank right now. I wish we did. So what we are doing is bringing these projects up to a point in which we can make a compelling case to Government, our partners and those in the private sector, to invest in them, showing their power to improve our economy and unlock new housing. We are also looking at tools like land value capture and tax increment financing, to help fund this infrastructure.

We are tasked with delivering for people in new ways, but we need exceptional staff to do that.

Part of that means offering pay that is competitive and our salary structure for senior positions is in line with other Combined Authorities and other large local authorities.

And the Combined Authority is not like a traditional local authority – our focus is very much strategic. We are the strategic transport authority and responsible for the local industrial strategy and local transport plan, for example. Therefore we are always likely to have fewer staff than traditional local authorities, but with a requirement for a number of senior strategic director positions which attract higher salaries.

And ultimately, above all else, it will be delivery for people that determines the success of the Combined Authority, and our ability to bring forward an agenda that will be truly transformational for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

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