Council leader backs call for inquiry into who agreed jobs loss for Chatteris and scale of inducements to move factory to Huntingdon

Cllr Steve Count(Con) Picture: Steve Williams.

Cllr Steve Count(Con) Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

Council leader Steve Count today backed MP Steve Barclay’s call for a probe into the Greater Cambridge and Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Cllr Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council and a board member of LEP, says he is surprised over allegations that a Chatteris firm is being enticed to Huntingdon with the offer of generous business rates concession.

Having initially been happy with responses given to him by the board he now found himself facing “two discordant tales” about how it came about.

“I will be asking colleagues for their recollections of board decisions and checking minutes, although these tend to be just a précis” he said. “However the answers I get will provide the route for looking into it.”

He wants specific information about who offered what and to who in the decision by MMUK to move from Chatteris to the LEP funded Alconbury Business Park at Huntingdon.

On his blog today he wrote: “I remember clearly the proposal that MMUK flowers would move from Chatteris to the Alconbury Weald enterprise zone.

“At the time I raised concerns about why a local business was expanding in this way. Because of the rate free nature of enterprise zones we tried to ensure the zone did not simply lure local businesses away from their base.”

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Cllr Count said that a second concern was whether we were “deliberately positioning the zone as a high-tech area, and this factory did not fit the bill.

“The third concern was the potential loss of jobs in the Chatteris area and the fourth was an empty factory being left behind in Chatteris.”

Cllr Count said he was assured at an LEP Board meeting that MMUK had looked around and Alconbury most fitted their needs for rapid growth; other sites including their own could not be expanded sufficiently.

“The factory although not high tech was necessary to kick-start some kind of industrial presence on the site as to date there were no interested takers,” he said.

“The existing personnel would be offered a transport mini bus service by MMUK to ensure they could get to and from the new location. “The existing site being vacated had another business right on the doorstep in Chatteris that were ready to expand into the vacated space. Most of all I remember the message being conveyed was this was a done deal and the board was being informed more of an information sharing exercise than any chance to change the outcome.”

Cllr Count concluded from statements made by MP Steve Barclay that:

• there were efforts to woo MMUK (as well as Stainless Metalcraft) to Alconbury.

• MMUK could have expanded in Chatteris

• no back filling of the present site is occurring and no support has been offered by the LEP to achieve this.

He added: “In my view these specific questions need answering by the LEP executive and further independent investigation.

“On a separate issue I will once again take up with the Chief Executive and the chairman the need for a published register of interests.

“I am not satisfied with the answers I have received to earlier requests that have only resulted in inaction.”

LEP has yet to respond to Cllr Count’s claims or to the allegations by Mr Barclay, the MP for NE Cambs.

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