‘I am here to serve the interests of the community’ says Barclay after meeting Labour mayor
- Credit: Dr Nik Johnson office
MP Steve Barclay scored a political ‘first’ today by becoming the first Cambridgeshire MP to meet officially with newly elected Labour mayor, Dr Nik Johnson.
It was seen as a sign of realpolitik as both found common cause in prospects for Fenland following the defeat of Tory mayor James Palmer.
“We had some really helpful discussions around transport and skills,” mayor Dr Nik tweeted afterwards.
These, he said, are “key priorities for the north of Greater Cambridgeshire. We’re looking forward to some great co-operation with Steve”.
So far, so good then with Mr Barclay following it up with a statement admitting that his reason for visiting Ely to see the mayor was to discuss “transport, skills and health priorities across Fenland and East Cambridgeshire”.
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Mr Barclay acknowledged his potential dilemma.
“I know some people may be surprised given that the newly elected mayor is from a different political party,” he said.
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“My view has always been that I am here to serve the interests of the community as a whole, and therefore reach out irrespective of party politics to help secure investment in Fenland and East Cambridgeshire.”
He described the meeting as “constructive” and said he had raised the “importance of the £3m skills agreement from Mayor Palmer being honoured for Chatteris, and have written to the new mayor seeking confirmation on this”.
This is the money pledged to Stainless Metalcraft to develop a new vocational training school at its Chatteris site.
The funding is scheduled to come from the combined authority’s Local Growth Fund and looks to be a done deal.
Indeed, Stainless Metalcraft announced that they had appointed Ashe Construction as the main contractor to build it.
However, it is thought the company is seeking categoric assurance from the new team at the combined authority that the investment is secure.
Dr Nik Johnson has given no indication that the money could be withdrawn.
Where he is likely to clash with Mr Barclay is over the issue of Wisbech Rail.
Mr Barclay said: “I also set out the case for transport improvements including Wisbech Rail which the previous mayor was very supportive of, and on which I hope the new mayor will also commit funding”
That seems unlikely.
At its last meeting before the elections, Mayor Palmer won approval for a further £300,000 of capital funding to progress the Wisbech to March link.
Despite assurances from Mayor Palmer at the time that the Government remained committed to further business studies to assess its viability, Dr Johnson is expected to suggest fresh thinking.
That could mean pausing work on the rail link but kick starting a lower cost and more flexible approach to link Wisbech with Cambridge.
If, as expected, formal dissolution of the CAM metro comes about, Dr Johnson may well decide to shift the focus of the techno boffins recruited for the project to working on infrastructure issues in the Fens.
Dr Johnson is on record as wanting to “do politics in a different way" and that will include bringing all political parties and leaders together, where possible.
An early outcome of that could be visible shortly, as appointments to the various combined authorities are made that could be based on which political leader is best suited to which post.
Irrespective of which political party they belong to.
If that happens, it could have game changing implications for Cambridgeshire.
Dr Johnson sees part of his role to defining exactly what the combined authority does, as well as taking stock of the 'Covid effect'.
He said: "Our world has changed and one of the things that it demonstrated was that public health had a huge implication for all of us. If you were poorer, didn't have good access, and lived in a house that was more crowded, you were more likely to die - and that's just fundamentally wrong.
"We have to challenge that as a combined authority and try to improve opportunities. If you live in poor housing, for example, how do you get to revise when your baby brother or sister is in the same room?
"It doesn't matter what colour politics you are; we've got to represent what people are asking for and make sure they're funded."