If last year’s EU referendum felt like the political equivalent of England making a World Cup final (don’t snigger, it may happen again), then the hype surrounding the election of a Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor can be likened to a lower league reserve match.
Within political circles there is plenty of chat about our first ever elected mayor, but try asking family, friends or work colleagues about next month’s election and often there are puzzled looks.
Even the Peterborough Telegraph’s Facebook page, which is so often a forum of angry and passionate responses, can go quiet when the words ‘mayor’, ‘devolution’ or ‘combined authority’ are mentioned.
This is despite adverts being posted throughout the city and on social media to advertise the election on May 4, which will cost just shy of £1 million.
Meanwhile, one Peterborough Telegraph reader, who was relaxing while listening to music streaming site Spotify, was surprised to hear a plug for the new mayor come up in the ad break between songs.
Public apathy is not surprising when the role of the mayor was created by government without any demand for it and voted through largely by Conservative-dominated councils in the face of huge scepticism from the opposition benches.
In Labour-run Cambridge, for instance, it took the offer of £70 million for affordable housing before the city council gave devolution the green light,
This has only heightened fears that Cambridge will benefit much than Peterborough under the new mayor, while many also suspect that Cambridgeshire County Council will be phased out.
As the factfile shows, the mayor will have a big role in deciding future transport policy across Cambridgeshire, will have £100 million to spend on housing in the county, and £20 million a year to put in an investment fund to boost growth.
The mayor will also be able to levy council tax from April 2018 if it as approved by the Government and Parliament, and he/she may be able to increase business rates to fund infrastructure in the future.
And this is very much just the start. Discussions with the Government to allocate new powers to allow the mayor and new authority to decide policies on health, deprivation and other areas are believed to be ongoing.
MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson admits he had his doubts when the new tier of government was announced last year, but he is urging the public to vote.
“People are often disconcerted and maybe uncomfortable when new government structures are introduced and we’ve never before elected an official in local government with such a big reach and mandate,” he said.
“I admit that I myself was quite sceptical at first.
“However, it’s a big and important role and a real opportunity for Peterborough to punch above its weight and be part of a programme of regeneration in housing, skills, infrastructure and new jobs and businesses - not just focused on Cambridge.
“I’d urge voters to read the candidates’ manifestos and contact them and above all vote to influence our area’s long term prospects.”
What is devolution?
Under devolution, the Combined Authority for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has been created. It is led by an elected mayor and the cabinet includes the leaders of the seven biggest Cambridgeshire councils (including Peterborough City Council) and a representative of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership.
What powers and money does it have?
The combined authority, which currently meets monthly in different locations, has:
• £20 million a year funding for 30 years to be invested towards growth
• £170 million to spend on housing, of which £70 million is ringfenced for Cambridge
• Responsibility for chairing an area-based review of 16+ skills provision and devolved 19+ adult skills funding from 2018/19
• Responsibility to create a comprehensive database of available public and private sector land and to remove barriers to its disposal/development in order to bring in more land for housing and employment.
• The mayor or any cabinet member may put forward proposals for the combined authority to decide on
• A majority of members present would need to agree to the proposal, but that would have to include the mayor for it to go ahead
• When the mayor sets out a strategy, including spending plans, it requires a two-thirds majority of those present to reject it for it not to go ahead
• On the mayor’s transport plan and transport funding, this needs a two-thirds majority, including the votes of Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council, to be approved.
The mayor’s powers
• Responsibility for a multi-year transport budget
• Responsibility for a ‘key route network’ of Cambridgeshire roads which will be managed and maintained by the combined authority
• Powers over strategic planning and housing and infrastructure funding,
Combined authority staff
• 10 posts
• These include a chief executive who will be paid £160,000 a year from 2018/19 and a director of delivery who will be paid £140,000.
On the director of delivery, a spokeswoman for the combined authority said: “The details on this post are still to be determined.”
Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council currently share the same chief executive in Gillian Beasley.
Asked why another county-wide chief executive is needed, the spokeswoman said: “To provide outstanding organisational leadership to the combined authority and the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to deliver the priorities of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution programme.”
She added that the key elements of the role are, among others:
• To champion the delivery of the strategic priorities of the combined authority and put in place the resources necessary to achieve this
• To further develop new opportunities for the combined authority and the mayor in conjunction with all partners for further devolution of funding and powers to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
• To manage the budgets and funding allocations available to the combined authority, in partnership with the finance officer
• To act as an ambassador for the combined authority at local, regional and national level in partnership with the mayor.