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James Palmer: In recent months our partners have fully aligned

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It is only through partnership that Cambridgeshire & Peterborough CA can fully achieve its transformational agenda for the economy of this area, making it an even better place to live and work.

The reception of this autumn’s Cambridgeshire & Peterborough independent economic review, chaired by the economist Dame Kate Barker, was therefore encouraging, rightly receiving universal praise here and in central government.

Its recommendations for action to improve our economic future have been endorsed by all the members of the combined authority, and it has had a pronounced and galvanising effect on our constituent authorities and partners on the need to be more than the sum of our parts.

So it was disappointing to read a Local Government Chronicle commentary describing “mayhem” and “constant conflict” in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough.

In fact the review highlighted just what a shared determination there is across this area to make the urgent interventions needed to allow our economy to continue to grow – and for that growth to be felt my more people.

The commentary referred to a letter by housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire to both the combined authority and the Greater Cambridge Partnership to “resolve a row over an alleged power grab by Mr Palmer involving the Cambridge City Deal”.

This allegation of a “power grab” is false and the letter did not seek to address anything of that nature. It mainly concerned the need for effective partnership working after the brief pause I called for in my interim transport strategy statement to ensure some of the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s busway and park and ride projects aligned with the proposed Cambridgeshire metro.

Since then effective work has been carried out jointly by the partnership and combined authority on where the partnership’s Cambourne to Cambridge transport corridor scheme will now transform into the first phase of the metro.

Before the interim transport strategy statement was published there was not full alignment between the work of the combined authority and the partnership. But the past couple of months have seen full alignment through joint working and collaboration.

The combined authority – an organisation which now encompasses the former Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership – is also evolving quickly.

After the departure of the former chief executive, I immediately tasked the interim chief executive John Hill with a comprehensive review of the combined authority, including the budget, staffing, performance management, and governance processes. That review is already delivering results and will culminate in an improvement plan in the new year.

LGC’s commentary also refers to a letter sent by chief executives of constituent councils earlier this year criticising the leadership of the combined authority, but this does not reflect the current position because of the review that started after the chief executive left.

Following the departure of the chief financial officer, we will also appoint auditors to do an external review of our budget to ensure there is confidence in the work that took place during his tenure, especially the preparation of the medium-term financial strategy.

This is about seeking an independent check and balance, and we expect this review to confirm there is a fully balanced budget in line with proper regulation when it reports to the combined authority board in the new year.

The economy of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough has a reputation for bold, innovative and collaborative working, and we must continue to harness that same spirit between the combined authority and our partners across the area to truly deliver for people in new ways. As we head into 2019, that will be one of my key focuses.

James Palmer (Con), mayor, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough CA

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