Calls for independent review to ‘restore public faith’ in Peterborough’s mayoral authority rejected

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Calls for an independent review to “restore public faith” in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire’s mayoral authority have been rejected, despite the “unhappiness” of residents, councillors, and businesses.

Today (Wednesday, September 26), the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CA), the body charged with helping deliver affordable housing, innovative transport schemes and the University of Peterborough, was called upon to commission an external independent review.

Mayor James Palmer

Mayor James Palmer

The call was made after a series of resignations (including the departure of former chief executive Martin Whiteley in August), and claims that the authority is suffering a lack of transparency, making it difficult for people, even those within the organisation, to understand how and why decisions have been made.

In a motion to the board of the CA, Cllr Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said there needed to be an independent review into the CA. She said this would help restore confidence in the organisation.

Cllr Smith said: “I am not particularly happy, and many of my residents are telling me they are not happy, and there are elements of the business sector that are not happy, and people around this table are not happy.

“My residents and the business sector are lacking the confidence they should have in the combined authority. They want to know we are doing our job properly and spending their money, and it is their money, correctly.”

Cllr Smith said a review had to be carried out by an external organisation, as there were not the resources or the expertise to carry it out “in house”.

She added: “We need to show the public we have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide.”

Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council, seconded the motion, saying the CA was becoming “too Ely based”. He said it needed to be collaborative and voiced his concern that the quality of reports and projects was below what he had expected. Cllr Herbert said “several mistakes” had been made due to a lack of a coherent infrastructure strategy.

The motion was voted down, but Mayor James Palmer, who heads the CA, said an internal review was already under way. He told the board he had asked newly installed joint interim chief executive John Hill to undertake the review, which would look at the structure of the authority.

Mr Palmer said: “I have asked Mr Hill to do a review of the structure of the combined authority. We are an embryonic organisation and have absorbed the LEP, which was a failing organisation, which has brought its own challenges.

“Clearly, it is very important we take the time after the resignation of Martin (Whiteley) to get a full review.”

Mr Palmer also said he was “absolutely convinced” of the quality of the projects the CA is already involved in, and said they were “on schedule” to be completed on time. He said there was no need for an external review, and said he could not justify the expenditure on one at this point.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, chairwoman of the CA’s overview and scrutiny committee, said the committee would now be looking at some of the concerns which led to the call for the independent review.

Cllr Nethsingha said there would be a particular focus on a perceived lack of transparency within the organisation.

Josh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporting Service