Mayor vows Cambridgeshire Business Board will be true voice of county business

Ensuring the voice of business is clearly heard in the corridors of power locally and nationally has long been a clarion call from company chiefs.

Sunday, 14th January 2018, 5:00 pm
Launch of the Business Board, Combined Authority Mayor James Palmer, right, Martin Whiteley, Combined Authority chief executive and Kim Sawyer, Combined Authority legal counsel.

Frustrated by what they see as the inability of elected politicians to get things done, they demand a snappy business-like approach should be taken to delivering on those matters important to enterprise.

Over the decades there have been numerous attempts to give business that voice - from private sector-led regeneration companies to local enterprise partnerships.

Now Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has a new platform for the private sector to make its voice heard - the Combined Authority’s Business Board.

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The board has been created in the wake of criticism by the National Audit Office about a lack of transparency and poor decision-making by the private sector-led Cambridgeshire and Peterborough enterprise partnership. The government was so concerned it froze £37 million of funding until its concerns about the LEP were resolved.

Following the NAO review, the LEP agreed to wind itself up and will be replaced by the Business Board from April 1.

But, will the new board make a difference and will the voice of Peterborough business be heard?

Combined Authority Mayor James Palmer said: “Peterborough certainly won’t miss out. So far, Peterborough has enjoyed greater investment from the Combined Authority than any part of the county. Peterborough has been well looked after by the Combined Authority and I don’t see that being any different at all with the business board.”

Although details about the board’s members are still being worked out, ensuring equal geographical representation is not the top priority.

Mayor Palmer said: “The most important thing is to get representation on the board from all type of businesses and for that representation to be dynamic and to make sure the new board is pushing forward and delivering for the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

“We believe the new board will deliver far more successfully across a wider area than has been done so far.”

The board will be an advisory body to the Combined Authority but unlike the LEP, the board will not control any funding. While the 25 staff employed by LEP will transfer to the Combined Authority the number required to work for the board still has to be agreed.

Martin Whiteley, chief executive of the Combined Authority and the interim chief executive of the LEP, said: “We have an opportunity to create quite a diverse board and not just in terms of geographic spread, but in terms of gender and age of representatives and the type, size and scale of business organisations that they represent. We are at an early stage. We are trying to identify the key sectors that are important to the growth of the economy of the area.

“The next thing is to think about who might be suitable and able to represent their organisation and to speak for that sector in a way that is powerful- and powerful in expressing the strength of the area outside the county.”