Mayor’s budget plans

The Mayor and Combined Authority opened a consultation on their proposed budget on 3 December, and closed it on 4 January.  I’ve responded as follows:

“I am writing in response to the consultation on the budget plans of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority.  It is disappointing, to say the least, that the consultation has been so cursory.  From the Combined Authority website, it would appear that the consultation was launched on 3 December, over the Christmas period, leaving only 22 working days to respond — and in reality, with Christmas shut-downs, probably less.  Under the Combined Authority’s Budget Framework Procedure Rules (contained in the Combined Authority’s constitution at Chapter 7, Section 4.3) this is the very minimum period permitted.

That the Combined Authority should choose to adopt such a minimal consultation period is bad enough, but there was no perceptible effort to publicise it — something that could have easily been achieved by contacting each member body and asking for the information to be cascaded to local councillors, and for them in turn to cascade to their local communities.  None of this appears to have happened.

It is also noteworthy that this minimal consultation is taking place in the midst of considerable turbulence at the Combined Authority.  Questions have been asked about the escalating revenue costs of running the Combined Authority, now over £5M per annum and rising, compared to the Mayor’s promised figure of £850K.  The authority’s fourth Chief Financial Officer in 18 months was unexpectedly sacked shortly before the consultation was opened, for challenging the affordability of some of the Combined Authority’s many promised schemes.  The Combined Authority’s finances are very much under the spotlight.

And yet the proposals published for consultation are the same as those presented to the Combined Authority Scrutiny Committee and the Combined Authority Board before the unexpected departure of the Chief Financial Officer.  This is very surprising, given that disagreement with the Chief Financial Officer’s judgement of those proposals was a key reason for his dismissal.  What confidence can Cambridgeshire and Peterborough residents have that the documents presented for consultation can be relied on, given the lack of confidence expressed by the joint interim Chief Executives and the Mayor in the officer who led on these reports?  How confident can we be that the figures in this budget will stand up to the scrutiny of the external auditors who have been called in to examine the Combined Authority’s financial position?  Will there be a further consultation once the external auditors have concluded their work?

Residents of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough deserve clarity about the future ongoing running costs of the Combined Authority, which are currently considerably higher than those promised by the Mayor.  We also deserve clarity about the funding streams for the many major projects that have been promised by the Mayor, and about the value for money of the Combined Authority’s enormous expenditure on consultants advising on projects for which the availability of sufficient funding is not clear.”

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