Naturally, I was very pleased that Cllr James Palmer, the Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, was chosen on Saturday as the Conservative Party candidate for the new job as Executive Mayor for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area, with elections due in May. I backed him from day one and he seemed to be the one with the vision needed to make the biggest impact locally and nationally.
I’m a devolution sceptic (or at least I was) but now the Government has offered serious money and powers and our area is to have control – through a Mayor and Combined Authority – of a sizeable budget on things like growth and strategic planning, skills and training and transport infrastructure, I will do my best to work with others across the county to make it work. Devolution means passing powers down to the most local level from central government and I think that means working with other local authorities, businesses, charities, public services like the NHS and elected officials to get the maximum benefit for local people.
The new Mayor will control a new additional £20 million a year funding allocation over 30 years to boost growth and a new £170 million ring-fenced fund to deliver an ambitious target of new homes over a five year period – and will also have responsibility for chairing an area-based review of 16+ skills provision and co-designing with Government a new National Work and Health programme designed to focus on those with a health condition or disability and the very long-term unemployed.
I think James will be good for Peterborough – unlike some candidates, he doesn’t think the job - and the money and ideas that go with it – stops at the boundary with the city of Cambridge and barely extends past Huntingdonshire! Yes Cambridge’s success is imperative but he realises too that Peterborough and Fenland will now demand and deserve a fair share of the wealth and infrastructure to bring more businesses, jobs and opportunities to the north of the county.
We’ve discussed the vital need for an expanding university presence in Peterborough and I will be working with the City Council and Opportunity Peterborough on other key initiatives – including a refocus on raising school standards, local transport connectivity, better quality housing on brownfield land and unlocking the hugely important city centre North Westgate project, which has been delayed for 30 years or more.
I’m genuinely excited by the potential the new Mayor has for making a long term and sustainable difference to this city’s future and I hope to play a major role in those endeavours.