Cambridgeshire Lib Dems fear ‘hostile takeover’ in the air of enterprise body by Mayor James Palmer

27th November 2017

Lib Dems described the battle for control of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (LEP) by Mayor James Palmer as “at best a hostile takeover”.

Resolution of an outstanding Government inquiry into the LEP is likely shortly with publication of a National Audit Office report into its governance prompted by a series of allegations made by NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay.

In recent days the furore surrounding the LEP has been compounded by the decision of chairman Mark Reeve to step down following the freezing of Government funding pending the outcome of the audit office inquiry.

Mayor Palmer said recently the LEP “is no longer able to fulfil the purpose for which it was established” and the decision to share chief executives with his combined authority has prompted speculation of a coming together of both bodies.

Lucy Nethsingha, leader of Cambridgeshire’s Liberal Democrat group, said: “At best you can call it is a hostile takeover. In the past the LEP provided essential grants to start-ups and small businesses, and it is vital that the process makes economic sense and is properly scrutinised , free from party-political pressure . This move is heading in the wrong direction.”

Mayoral candidate and Cambridge City Councillor Rod Cantrill, who sits on the Combined Authority overview and scrutiny committee said: “This move is not good for devolved democracy – it just increases the power of the mayor.

“I question whether the new Combined Authority can take on this extra role when it has so much to do towards the core objectives it needs to deliver on.”

He said: “I worry about the governance of the Combined Authority as it increases its power base: its scrutiny function is still finding its feet, and it needs a properly -democratic structure.

“Once the LEP is under the control of the Combined Authority, will it be balanced across the region – or will it be weighted towards the mayor’s pet projects?”

“I’m worried that the Greater Cambridge Partnership may be at risk as well .”

Peter Dawe former mayoral hopeful and Ely businessman, believes the move is inevitable

“The reason for the LEP was that councils no longer stimulate local economies,” he said.

“They have shown themselves incapable of encompassing the wider vision for an area, and taking locally-unpopular decisions for the general good, because of factional interests”.

Mr Dawe added: “Generally, the business community is not in favour of this concentration of control.

“It’s a naked power-grab engineered by Mayor Palmer and Mr Barclay but you will not get businessmen to speak out and rock the boat. They are all afraid that they might get punished through the planning department, if and when they make applications in years to come.”

A statement on the LEP website says that “after more than four years serving as chair of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP Board, Mark Reeve will be standing down from his role on December 19, 2017.

Mr Reeve is quoted as saying: “It has been my utmost privilege to have been part of the LEP since its inception and to have had the privilege to chair.

“We have made significant progress in six short years and now have an embedded presence in the local economic growth agenda that is making a tangible, positive impact on the local economy. It has been a pleasure to work with the LEP team, my fellow board members and our wider partnership group over the last six years.”

The LEP Board will consider the future position of chair at the December 19 meeting.