Cambridgeshire business leaders complain about Mayor Palmer’s ‘lack of transparency’ and demand independent inquiry into running of combined authority

James Brokenshire (left) and John Bridge

James Brokenshire (left) and John Bridge - Credit: Archant

Business leaders tonight called for a ‘full independent inquiry’ into the running of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

It follows a day in which Mayor James Palmer faced intense criticism over the resignation of the £150,000 combined authority chief executive Martin Whiteley.

Now the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce have weighed in with a strongly worded statement attacking Mayor Palmer’s “fastidious approach to transparency and governance”.

In a statement the chambers said: “In order to ensure compliance with Government guidelines and the receipt of the very necessary investment into our area it is imperative that a full inquiry is instigated without any delay.”

John Bridge, the chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “

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“We are writing to James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing and Local Government to raise our significant concerns into the new business board governance arrangements.

“We are also requesting a full independent public inquiry into this and other key issues as demanded by board members of the combined authority.”

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The Cambridgeshire chamber said in a statement that: “Increasingly concerns are being raised over the transparency of the governance arrangements of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and the newly formed business board which has been declared as the local enterprise partnership covering the economic geographical area significantly larger than the existing combined authority area.

“Key questions have been raised over the departure of the chief executive and the lack of transparency and compliance with governance over Martin Whiteley’s sudden disappearance and the appointment of interims by the mayor with no consultation.”

The statement pointed out that last week Councillor Lewis Herbert, Labour leader of Cambridge City Council and Councillor Bridget Smith, Lib Dem leader of South Cambs District Council also “ felt compelled” to call for an independent review of the combined authority to include delivery objectives for 2018/2019, governance, top to bottom staffing, operations and project delivery.

The statement added: “Given the mayor’s previous fastidious approach to transparency and governance surrounding the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership, it is imperative that the same level of focus and scrutiny is applied to the new arrangements.”

Mr Bridge and Mayor Palmer clashed in July last year – over the re-opening of the Wisbech to March rail link that the former claimed was a lame duck.

Mr Bridge at the time was also a senior member of the Government funded Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and he felt that the project was economically unviable and not deliverable.

His comments – aired in a BBC interview– were immediately criticised by the then recently elected Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor James Palmer.

One of Mayor Palmer’s first actions on taking office was to fund the £3.2 million Grip 3 study needed to progress the rail opening – a project the LEP had declined pending more detailed information.

Mr Bridge, the chamber’s chief executive since 2004 and formerly managing director of a haulage company and chairman of the Road Haulage Association, said: “Certainly we do not believe developing the railway line from Wisbech to March is going to have economic benefit nor is it deliverable.”

NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay tweeted last year: “John Bridge, Cambs Chamber Commerce since 2004, LEP board member since 2012 and current chairman transport committee. What has he done for the Fens?”

Mr Bridge is reported in board minutes of the LEP as questioning the capital cost of the rail link and highlighting the lack of an operator and potential operating losses.

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