Opposition leader Lorna Dupre ‘furious’ as we reveal Mayor James Palmer’s bid to take on former Ely office of Citizen’s Advice Bureau
- Credit: Archant
Mayor James Palmer is in talks to acquire the lease of the former Citizens’ Advice Bureau from East Cambridgeshire District Council.
He will use the building at 70 Market Street, Ely, to bring most, if not all, of his Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority workforce to the city.
Mayor Palmer says the move will save money and “make significant savings for the combined authority”.
The mayor already has a small team working out of the adjoining former register office and he believes good transport links will make Ely a natural hub.
However, the move was condemned by Cllr Lorna Dupre, leader of the Lib Dem opposition group on East Cambridgeshire Council.
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She said: “I’m furious and this appalling news is the final kick in the teeth for residents of East Cambridgeshire who fought desperately to save the citizens’ advice bureau and independent advice.”
Cllr Dupre: “It was always obvious there was a profit to be gained by forcing the citizens’ advice bureau out of the building they had occupied at a peppercorn.
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“It is only four weeks since they vacated the premises and neither the council nor the Conservative leadership recognise how scandalous this is.
“They clearly feel they are six feet above criticism”.
Mayor Palmer said he was disappointed that news of the proposed acquisition had leaked since he had only discussed it in recent days with council leaders across the county.
“We are always trying to save money where we can, and we have an opportunity to make significant savings for the combined authority. If that opportunity comes along, we have to look at it – it would be prudent to do so.”
He said talks were ongoing and it was premature to believe it was a done deal.
“We are as a combined authority heavily funded in capital but not revenue so we have to be as frugal as we can.”
The mayor said he took “a lot of flak” when the former chief executive of the combined authority left but the resulting management changes had saved £1.8million from the revenue budget.
“This is money that can be spent on things for the public – it is important to try and do everything possible to remain frugal,” he said.
Mayor Palmer said the long-term aim had always been to find a site for the combined authority with good public transport access.
“I feel it is imperative that as many as possible can get to combined authority meetings can get there on public transport,” he said. “We are looking at options that will allow us to do so.”
He said the combined authority employed around 50 people, but the current coronavirus pandemic had shown that many can “productively and efficiently” work from home rather than travel long distances.
Mayor Palmer said no lease had yet been signed for the Ely premises and it may well be the district council will want to advertise the premises and discuss options with potential bidders.
It was premature, he said, to say the combined authority would definitely acquire 70 Market Street.
Mayor Palmer said he accepted that the county council was moving out to Alconbury and they would benefit from his metro plans for transporting staff once the project was agreed and work on it got under way.
Councillor Anna Bailey, Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, said: “I can confirm that East Cambridgeshire District Council is not signing a lease tomorrow for 70 Market Street in Ely.
“Although Citizens Advice Bureau gave notice to the council to surrender their lease on 1 April 2020, the Council agreed to give them time to vacate due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“The council is currently assessing the future options for the property and these will be considered by the finance and assets committee in due course.”
Her response followed these questions to the council’s PR advisers: We asked: Can you confirm East Cambs will sign a lease tomorrow on 70 Market Street, the former home of the Citizens Advice Bureau?
Can you also confirm the tenant will be Mayor James Palmer?
And also the rent to be paid and terms of lease?