“Frozen” funds triggers clash

Mayor James Palmer
Mayor James Palmer
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A leading business chief has clashed with the new mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough over calls for an enterprise partnership to be brought under the wing of the new Combined Authority.

John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, says politicians have “engineered” a situation in which vital funding for the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has been frozen by government.

He was responding to demands from James Palmer, the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, for the LEP to form a ‘single umbrella’ with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority which he heads up.

Mayor Palmer said he was “greatly concerned” £37.2 million of funding for the LEP, which drives wealth and jobs creation in the county, had been frozen by the Government following a review into the organisation.

He said the LEP was no longer fulfilling its purpose to support local businesses.

The LEP already has a seat on the combined authority.

In an open letter to the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership, Mayor Palmer stated: “I understand the significant growth funding that has been secured for the area is frozen and regrettably the organisation appears to have lost the confidence of local and national stakeholders.

“It is creating reputational damage and will inhibit the ability of the area as a whole to attract inward investment at a time when we face such a huge deficit in our infrastructure.”

The LEP is being reviewed by the National Audit Office as part of a wider review into LEPs across the country. Its report is expected by November 7

Mr Bridge, who is also a member of the LEP, said: “It is quite challenging that he would make these comments. It is not healthy for these things to be under one person’s control.

“The essence of LEPs was to have a private sector-led board and to be the voice of business driving the economy forward.

“Politicians have created a situation in which government has put funding on hold while an investigation takes place of allegations made by politicians about processes. I’m mystified why the temporary hold on funds for 2019/20 has not been lifted.”