Peterborough and Cambs metro mayor accused over ‘savings’ from office move

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Metro mayor James Palmer was accused of “cooking the books” at a scrutiny committee meeting over the combined authority’s possible move to Ely.

Cllr Ed Murphy (Labour and Co-operative, Peterborough City Council) told members of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CaPCA) overview and scrutiny committee at their online meeting: “Mayor Palmer is ‘cooking the books’ and misleading the public into costs savings that are simply not there.”

The comment arose following a decision taken by Mayor Palmer in April to move the CaPCA offices from Alconbury to a site in Ely, as yet unnamed.

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At that time Mayor Palmer said: “We’ve been contacted by an interested party who want to take over the offices we rent at Alconbury where the transport links are dreadful. If we move to Ely as I’m proposing, then the CaPCA will end up saving £922,000.”

Mayor James PalmerMayor James Palmer
Mayor James Palmer | Johnston Press Resell

It is this savings figure of £922,000 that members of the committee were concerned about at Friday’s meeting.

Cllr Anne Hay (Conservative, Fenland District Council) added: “I think it’s very important that we ask the CaPCA Board at their meeting next week to explain to this committee exactly what the saving is going to be, because it certainly isn’t £922,000 as Mayor Palmer claims.”

Cllr Marcus Gehring (Lib Dem, Cambridge City Council) added: “I think this whole matter is an absolute disgrace – why, for example, are we being asked to pay an entire year’s rent as part of our negotiated settlement at Alconbury just so we can move?

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“The cost of the lease surrender alone amounts to £151,000 – that’s an ‘exit fee’ which must be deducted from Mayor Palmer’s ridiculous ‘savings’ figures. That brings it down to £771,000.

“Then there’s the cost moving from Alconbury to Ely – that too must be deducted.  And what about the new costs of where the CaPCA office will be. Nobody has mentioned those. Are we renting? If so, how much will the annual rent be? That must also be deducted.

“If we’re buying a building, then how much are we paying for that building? That too must be deducted from these so-called savings figures.”

Cllr Hay summed up by saying: “I think it a bit disingenuous of Mayor Palmer to put such figures before this committee and his pronouncements of £922,000 savings are grossly misleading.”

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Members unanimously voted to raise the question of the savings figures at the CaPCA Board meeting on June 3.

If the deal to move is ratified it will mean the CaPCA leaving its current offices at Alconbury, and although Mayor Palmer says no new location has been confirmed, the former offices of the Citizens Advice Bureau in Ely have been considered.

Robert Alexander, Local Democracy Reporting Service

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