New boss of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority makes 'take our problems seriously' warning to members

Key review of authority is planned for September

Wednesday, 27th July 2022, 11:23 am

The new interim chief executive of the troubled Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) has warned members they must take the organisation’s problems seriously.

The comments from veteran public sector leader, Gordon Mitchell, who was appointed to the top job at the Combined Authority just three weeks ago, came at his first meeting where he presented members with his Improvement Framework.

The document details how the Combined Authority will need to undertake a self-assessment process and a formal improvement programme to resolve its problems.

Gordon Mitchell, the interim chief executive of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, addressing members of the Overview and Scrutiny meeting.

It comes with Government officials effectively looking over members’ shoulders ready to step in if improvements cannot be made after external auditors Ernst & Young warned of ‘a significant weakness in the CPCA’s governance arrangements.’

Mr Mitchell told members at the Overview and Scrutiny meeting: “It is vital that the Mayor and all members take this matter as very serious – the idea of commissioners taking decisions in an organisation that’s supposed to be democratically guided is quite wrong – but those are the sorts of measures that the government is considering.

“In introducing today’s ‘Improvement Framework’ you will be aware that this document will be put before several regulatory bodies including the external auditor and Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) over the coming weeks, and basically it outlines how we need to undertake a self-assessment process and a formal improvement programme.

Mr Mitchell added: “A few weeks in I honestly don’t know all the answers – there are still some stones to turn over, and there is a layer of general ‘chat’ and ‘chatter’ at the moment much of which isn’t accurate.

And he added: “But, that said, if we replace the ‘chatter’ with facts and good communication in terms of confidence we will have to wait and see what level of intervention DLUHC will opt for.

“From the brief discussions I’ve had with them, they’re content that you’ve appointed me, and the things that I want initially to do are manifested in this report – but we’ll have to wait and see and have a review of the situation in mid-September.”

Mr Mitchell, who replaces former chief executive Eileen Milner who resigned in April this year, told members: “Clearly I’ve come into the organisation when lots of things are in play including a set of circumstances that has seen the previous CEO leave her position because of a variety of issues.

"This has come to a head through a letter from the external auditor who has taken the view that the governance of the authority is no longer fit for purpose.”

Cllr Steve Count (Conservative, Fenland District Council), said: “I’ve described the CPCA before as a sinking ship and I’m really quite demoralised by just how far it has deteriorated.

He added: “It’s in a bad shape at the moment, and I really hope that with somebody like Gordon at the helm we’ll be able to turn it around.”

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