The mayor of Cambridgeshire has put forward proposals to the government to absorb the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) into the Combined Authority.
The Conservative mayor James Palmer described his proposal while answering questions from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority scrutiny committee on Wednesday (July 29).
He said he put forward proposals in February that would see the GCP operate in a similar fashion to the business board, which is part of the Combined Authority.
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Chairman of the scrutiny committee, Liberal Democrat Lorna Dupre, questioned why, if the mayor had put forward his alternative governance proposal in February, the minister for regional growth and local government, Simon Clarke MP, had requested clarification in July.
“I’m genuinely not sure, but I know, because I went to see the minister with a copy of that letter in February, that the officials at MHCLG (Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government) have had that documentation,” he said.
The mayor said bringing the Combined Authority and GCP under one governance structure in a similar way to the business board, could both retain its independence and bring the two authorities’ strategies into alignment.
‘Very difficult to get unity’
The business board only meets publicly once a year, and has two political members, the mayor and his deputy, who are not entitled to vote.
Giving his reasoning he suggested the transport policies of the GCP “negatively affect” the rest of the county.
Mr Palmer said: “We very successfully transformed the Local Enterprise Partnership from a failing organisation into one that has been exceptional in its interventions in Cambridgeshire over the past few years, working as an independent business board under the governance of the Combined Authority, and the ambition was to create something similar, or is to create something similar with the GCP, working under one governance, working under one transport plan, working with the benefits of the whole of Cambridgeshire in mind.”
He added: “It’s been very very difficult to get a unity of understanding and purpose. It is highly detrimental to the rest of Cambridgeshire if one part of the county decides that it is above and beyond the transport plan and does not adhere to that.
“It is extremely important to create a situation in this county where we spread the wealth of the south across the whole of Cambridgeshire.
“It is an absolute disgrace that people who live in the Fens have a shorter lifespan than those who live in the south of Cambridge.
“It is ridiculous in the most advanced country in the world that you cannot link parts of the north of Cambridgeshire to parts of the south of Cambridgeshire. It is insane that to drive from Cambridge to Wisbech takes well over an hour, and it’s only 30 miles.
“And if we do not have a joined up transport policy we will just perpetuate the failings that have gone before us.”
‘Too much government’
He said mayors like himself were brought in to solve these issues.
“The only city deal in the entire country that has not been absorbed into a Combined Authority is in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and it is not working,” he added.
“We have too much government in Cambridgeshire. We need to work together, we need to find mutual common ground and shared purpose, and we need to understand that the world doesn’t begin and end at the A14.
“Until we do that we will continue to have parts of the county that are disconnected and parts of the county where people can’t afford to live. If the policies are wrong they will continue to force people out of the south of Cambridgeshire into the Fens, into East Cambs and then they are forced onto the road to drive into work because there is no suitable solution. We have a fantastic solution in front of us with CAM Metro.”
He said he had appealed to the GCP on a number of occasions to discuss this on a one-to-one basis, but had been rebuked on every occasion.
‘The GCP is not a democratic elected body’
“We have spoken about myself being part of the GCP board as a non-voting member, that has been rejected, we spoke about discussing the governance of Cambridgeshire, that has been rejected,” he added.
“It is very difficult to agree a common purpose with an organisation or a committee that has no interest in joint working.
“I’m heavily banging on the door here of the GCP. I think the issue lies in that the GCP is not a democratic elected body, nobody has ever stood for election on the policies that it has, it is very heavily controlled by civil servants, and I believe that is a significant issue.
“We have to either believe in democracy or we do not believe in democracy, and I stood for election, and one of my significant policies was to deliver a metro system for Cambridgeshire, and I received more votes than anybody else, and I believe very much that it is my job to uphold the manifesto that I stood for.”
He said the issue “may seem irrelevant” to other parts of the county “but it’s not irrelevant if policies that are put forward in and around Cambridge negatively affect the ability to level up the rest of the county, and the ambition for CAM Metro is to reach the entirety of Cambridgeshire”.
Asked when his authority’s proposal for a Cambourne to Cambridge route is expected, he said: “I haven’t got an exact timeline to give you, but I assure you work is ongoing, and we will try to work alongside the GCP to find the right solution.”
He also said he has not seen the proposals for the busway between Cambridge and Granta Park, some of which are in the public domain.
But he suggested he may take issue with that route too, saying: “If we just build a busway out to Granta Park we would have to dual carriageway the A1307
“There is cause and effect to ineffectual public transport solutions.”