Overview & Scrutiny at the Combined Authority

This morning saw 11 of the 14 members of the Combined Authority’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee wrapping up warm to brave the chills of Peterborough’s Town Hall. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

Mayor Palmer was there to answer questions from the committee, of which we had a number.

  1. In answer to a question about public transport to Alconbury, the Mayor said he was ‘confident we will bring the CAM Metro to Alconbury’. He also hoped to see Ramsey-Hamptons-Peterborough as a public transport link.
  2. No, Mayor Palmer’s Combined Authority wouldn’t be declaring a climate emergency as he ‘hadn’t seen the evidence’. However, there would be an independent environmental review, and the ‘garden village’ concept and CAM Metro would ensure the Combined Authority was carbon neutral.
  3. Would the Combined Authority use Peterborough’s proposed new Housing Revenue Account as a way of delivering new affordable homes? The Mayor told us he was interested in ‘new models’ of housing delivery.
  4. With only 935 homes built by Community Land Trusts in the whole country, would the Combined Authority not do better to rely on tried and tested methods such as working with housing associations instead? According to the Mayor, the housing minister thought everything was fine with the way the Combined Authority was delivering housing.
  5. The Combined Authority had appointed a member of staff to work on Brexit impacts.
  6. The Mayor couldn’t give details as to the number of former Thomas Cook employees he had directly helped into employment following the collapse of the company with consequent effects in Peterborough.
  7. He would also come back to the committee with an update on the review of the processes used in the departure of the Combined Authority’s former chief executive and chief finance officer.

The committee’s vice-chair Cllr Kevin Price then presented us with an update of the work by the committee’s Task & Finish group scrutinising the CAM Metro plans. Several pieces of promised information had not yet been supplied to the group to help it do its work. There was some concern that a lot of money was being spent on the CAM Metro without exploring the fundamental feasibility of tunnelling under Cambridge.

We then spent some time considering the new arrangements for the Combined Authority Board and its Committees to take decisions, and how we will need to change our ways of working to scrutinise them effectively. We agreed to invite the committee chairs to our meetings to answer questions in the same way that we invite the Mayor; to appoint lead members to shadow each of the committees; and to adopt a system for agreeing which questions and comments to put to the Committees.

We confirmed a set of questions to take to the Combined Authority Board on Wednesday: on slippage of projects, Community Land Trusts, funding options for the CAM Metro, on the transport levy passed back to Peterborough and Cambridgeshire councils, on the review of procedures following the departures of the former Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer, and on the declaration of a climate emergency.

We looked through the Combined Authority forward plan and identified the issues we wanted to look at in more depth, including the draft Local Transport Plan and the various stages of drawing up the Combined Authority budget, and we added these to our own workplan.

Same time next month then: Monday 25 November in Huntingdon. It’ll be feeling even more like Christmas by then!

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