Combined Authority mayor vows not to 'walk away' from legacy challenges facing an organisation in need of 'resuscitation'

Mayor apologises for length of time needed to tackle historic issues

By Paul Grinnell
Wednesday, 8th June 2022, 2:11 pm

The mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority has vowed that he will not “walk away” from mounting challenges facing the organisation.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson delivered his upbeat statement at the Combined Authority’s annual meeting today (June 8) as he began his second year in office.

He has recently faced calls from some authority members for him to stand down while ‘investigations’ into unspecified matters took place.

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Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, left, at the topping out ceremony at the new ARU Peterborough, with university principal Professor Ross Renton.

Dr Johnson told members: “No matter how challenging the circumstances, I know after just one year that the Combined Authority is absolutely worth the effort, it is an organisation capable of huge compassion and has so much to offer.

"I am not walking away and look forward to working and co-operating with all of you in the future to bring the positive differences we want for all our communities.”

But Dr Johnson said the authority was facing ‘legacy problems and challenges’ and he apologised that they were taking so long to resolve.

He said: “Let’s be absolutely clear that following my election in May 2021 and my arrival at the Combined Authority the problems that the central Conservative government had already highlighted at the heart of the Combined Authority did not immediately disappear.”

Dr Johnson, an experienced children’s doctor, likened the authority to a patient in need of urgent resuscitation.

He said: “I am genuinely sorry that trying to solve and work through all the legacy problems and challenges is taking so long.

"There is still so much to do. To turn the Combined Authority around it needs a huge commitment from us all.

“As a doctor I have seen the very best in human nature and I have seen the very worst.

"When the going gets tough I am not the sort of person to walk away from a challenge.

"Trying to diagnose the problems at the centre of this wonderful organisation has been and continues to be one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced.

"At times it has felt that the Combined Authority has needed serious resuscitation to keep its beating heart going but I have never given up and I absolutely will not give up.”

Why are Dr Johnson’s words significant?

While some Combined Authority members have spoken publicly about concerns, Dr Johnson has kept quiet.

But he told members: “I am very conscious that in light of recent events there has been a lot of additional information and speculation in the public domain. “Following advice from staff within the CPCA to date very little additional information has been heard from myself.

"I have followed this advice as there are several sensitive ongoing processes and I am very mindful of the need to respect these and to not be seen as trying to influence any outcomes.

“However, with these caveats in mind and in the context of the regular board agenda item of mayoral announcements I believe it is appropriate for me to now speak to some of these events.”

Mayor highlights the importance of scrutiny:

Dr Johnson said that the demands for inquiries had been an ‘uncomfortable time’ for him and the issues were ones he had already highlighted.

He said: “As the mayor I will be the first to acknowledge that the scrutiny, criticism and investigation has and continues to be an uncomfortable place.

“But I absolutely believe that it is of utmost importance that you, the public and the communities we all serve need the reassurance that any process of scrutiny of public figures is comprehensive and fully transparent.

He said: “To make it absolutely clear some of these very concerns you have heard so much about in recent times are the very issues I have already raised and requested urgent review within the organisation over many months on numerous occasions .

"As a NHS doctor, there is no one more aware of the importance that anybody within any organisation should feel empowered to be able to report their concerns, to throw light on problems and bring meaningful transparency and full scrutiny to an organisation.

"This is also true of the process of internal and external audit.

“No organisation and no single individual is beyond the public expectation of full scrutiny and full public disclosure - if there are concerns the should always be investigated.

“It is for this very reason that I am, and have always been, fully supportive of the need to use all means available, working with all organisations – local and central Government, using all internal and external processes for a full assessment of how the Combined Authority works and delivers for the community of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.”

‘Proud to be mayor’

Dr Johnson said: “There are some incredible, dedicated, hard working staff within the Combined Authority .

"On a daily basis over the last year, I have been hugely impressed by their commitment, sense of public duty and their ambition to make positive and meaningful change for the communities they serve.

“I am proud to be the mayor and I am proud of the work the Combined Authority does on a daily basis – the way I have been welcomed and supported over the last year and the willingness of the staff to embrace the change which came with the arrival of a new mayor is the very reason that I feel inspired to keep going at the most challenging of times.”

Record of success for first year in office

Dr Johnson underlined how successful his first year in office has been,

He said: “As a Combined Authority, we have achieved a lot during the past year.”

Soham Station – opened, ahead of schedule and under budget. Improvements at March and Manea stations. Successful funding bids worth £40 million secured. Digital connectivity investment beating its target, and free wi-fi installed in Hunts, East Cambs and Fenland market towns. On course to deliver over 1,500 affordable homes. Over £4 million for Zero emissions buses. The University of Peterborough is a reality at last, and getting ready to welcome its first students in September.

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