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23.10.17

Mayor James Palmer: A remarkable chance to do things differently

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer reflects on his first six months in office, from the successes already achieved to the remaining challenges ahead.

Being elected as the first mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough was a tremendous honour. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is a remarkably productive and beautiful part of the country and an area I have been proud to call my home throughout my whole life.

I have a number of priorities relating to transport, housing and skills. Core to all of these priorities is a desire to ensure that the rapid growth associated with Greater Cambridge that will provide 44,000 new jobs over the next decade is sustainable.

This aim will only be achieved if we tackle the housing crisis in Greater Cambridge by delivering tens of thousands of new homes and overhaul transport infrastructure to support the growth. It also means delivering with regard to skills and apprenticeships.

If the mayoral combined authority is going to mean anything for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, it needs to be about doing things differently.

I see the combined authorities as a brilliant opportunity to rethink and question the way in which we go about delivering housing and transport infrastructure in this country.

The very fact that the government felt the need to create mayoral combined authorities and received such support in doing so by various parts of the country is a clear indication that there is a recognition from both central and local government that the status quo regarding council arrangements is not delivering for many regions.

The Spatial Plan is an opportunity to go above and beyond the growth outlined in local plans. Once fully developed, it will enable us to engage more imaginatively with the need to provide new housing across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The Bus Services Act 2017 also gives Cambridgeshire and Peterborough an exciting opportunity to rethink our bus services. Later this year we will bring forward our own review of bus services across the entirety of the region. One of the issues that the review will examine is whether or not bus franchising could be the answer.

Clearly, if we do decide to go down this route it would be a significant change ‒ one that, if done in the right way, would transform bus services across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough for the better. It’s early days, but the opportunity to have a significant say on bus routes, prices, ticketing and timetabling has its attractions.

Not just another political layer

Starting an organisation up from scratch comes with its own challenges; finding office space and getting the right people and structures in place. Understandably, the public have grown cynical of local government often not delivering and are keen that the combined authority is not just another layer of bureaucracy.

This is a desire that I absolutely share. My focus is to keep the authority as lean as possible whilst delivering radical change for the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Ultimately, whether the combined authority will be judged as a success will depend on what we’re able to achieve. For this reason, whilst I’m keen to develop exciting medium- to long-term proposals to transform Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s transport infrastructure, I’m also keen for the combined authority to play a key role in tackling shovel-ready issues across the region. Only when the combined authority starts delivering on the ground will people really begin to see its worth and the significant role it can play in delivering for the region.

Reviewing local government

As an area, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and is extraordinarily diverse – from its booming life sciences sector in the south to its agri-tech in the north. The area I represent has different strengths and faces different challenges; ensuring that the combined authority delivers for the entirety of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough isn’t going to be an easy one, but it’s a goal that I’m confident of achieving.

Local government arrangements in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough are complex, and there is a sense that we are an over-governed part of the country.

It’s for this reason that I’ve announced my intention to bring forward an independent review of local government. It’s at an early stage, but I’m convinced that there is a better way of governing Cambridgeshire and Peterborough: a way that is cheaper, more streamlined and more efficient.

All in all, the past six months have been extremely challenging. I have no doubt that the challenges will keep on coming thick and fast. However, I find the role extremely rewarding.

The combined authority is a great opportunity for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to do things differently, tackle issues that have long been seen as intractable and achieve our true economic potential.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

W: cambridgeshirepeterborough-ca.gov.uk

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editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this feeling of imminent change than the article James Palmer, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, has penned for us on p28. In it, he highlights... read more >