Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s deputy mayor hits out as £50m lays unspent
Almost £50million remains unspent by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, prompting its deputy mayor to complain it is “delivering nothing”.
The body is tasked with doubling the size of the local economy, accelerating house building and delivering outstanding transport links.
But it is set to end with a £49.7m underspend against a budget for its major projects programme, with more than £20m unused on transport.
The underspend includes £100,000 of savings made by scrapping former Conservative mayor James Palmer’s £2bn Cambridge Autonomous Metro (CAM) proposals – a promise made to voters during Labour mayor Dr Nik Johnson’s successful election campaign.
The mayor has since begun work on a complete rethink of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s local transport and connectivity plan – the strategy for overhauling transport in the region – which is due to go out to public consultation later in the spring after work was delayed.
Speaking about the Combined Authority underspend, the Tory deputy mayor, Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, told the board: “I’m disappointed that officers put a lot of work into projects that were setting the pace and then we’ve changed direction – and I’m not happy about it. And also you might find that’s why you’re not spending any money because you keep changing your mind – well somebody does – which leads to even more delay and we spend nothing and deliver nothing.”
He claimed the process had been “poorly managed” and “continues to be”.
A report to the board said its underspend was mostly “due to timing delays” and because in a number of areas a “combination of project changes and efficiencies have resulted in a saving”.
These include the savings from scrapping the underground metro plan – in addition to the £3.25m saving reported earlier in the year – and £1m due to National Highways rejecting funds for ducting on the A428 for broadband.
The £49.7m underspend represents 27 per cent of the Combined Authority’s capital expenditure budget.
This figure is set to reduce when the Combined Authority returns £22m to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as it has been unable to “deliver the Green Homes grant programme”.
It says this is due to “delays in contracting, availability of a national supply chain and local authority capacity to deliver projects”.
Chief financial officer Jon Alsop said the Combined Authority was “very conscious” of the issue and said an internal audit review of the capital projects was under way.
This echoed comments made by business representative Austen Adams and former Cambridge City Council leader, Cllr Lewis Herbert (Lab), who both called for reviews into the capital projects.
Cambridgeshire County Council leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem) added: “I do think it would be really interesting for us to do some work on that.
“It might be interesting to do a joint piece of work because actually this is not just an issue for the Combined Authority. It’s also an issue for the county council. And I think it would be really interesting to have a really good, deep look at some of our capital projects and why we’re not managing to predict spend on those accurately. There are always excuses for that, but we’re still doing it really badly. So I think it would be well worth potentially looking at that together.”
Mayor Dr Johnson supported ‘direction of travel’ for the review and added “let’s be part of a solution, collective leadership”.
The Combined Authority also recorded an underspend in its revenue budget of £2,278,000.
Cllr Fitzgerald, who is the Tory leader of Peterborough City Council, continued: “I won’t go into the detail of all the other funds that are available to the Combined Authority that maybe aren’t in these papers or we’re not talking about today, which is why I’m saying I’d like a paper – not a long complicated thing – to say what money is where and why isn’t it being spent? And when does it have to be spent by?
“I’ve got a lot of frustrated people here that want answers but also want to see action quickly. Otherwise months go by and we still spend no money which is the point of the Combined Authority – to improve Cambridgeshire as a whole.”
While the new transport strategy for the region will focus on improving bus services, the news also came this week that the Combined Authority has missed out on the latest round of government funding to boost public transport services. It had been hoping for a slice of £3bn over three years.
The government says the successful areas have been chosen because of their ambition to repeat the success achieved in London.
Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner said: “I’ve long argued that buses are the way forward in Cambridge and our region, but to tackle crippling congestion and secure more environmentally friendly transport systems, we have to convince the public to take the bus. That means real investment, not the latest half-baked plans from the Prime Minister,” he said.
The government previously withheld £45m for affordable housing from the authority citing concerns over lack of progress and value for money before releasing just £18m.