‘I can only apologise’ says Mayor Palmer after scrutiny committee questions costs of £7.5m to run combined authority against predicted £850,000 a year

PUBLISHED: 13:19 26 November 2018 | UPDATED: 15:05 26 November 2018

Mayor James Palmer, Mayor of Ely Cllr Mike Rouse and MP Lucy Frazer were among those who attended the official opening of Ely bypass. Picture: CLARE BUTLER.

Mayor James Palmer, Mayor of Ely Cllr Mike Rouse and MP Lucy Frazer were among those who attended the official opening of Ely bypass. Picture: CLARE BUTLER.

Archant

Mayor James Palmer admitted he underestimated the cost of running the new combined authority, and says original predictions it would cost £850,000 a year were never going to be realistic.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority was founded in 2017 in a bid to simplify local government. It is involved in many major housing and infrastructure schemes, including the proposed Cambridge metro, and the Wisbech rail link.

However, having initially been hailed as an “efficient” and low-cost authority, some are beginning to worry about rising costs and the “spiralling” cost of paying for staff.

Initially, it had been claimed the authority could be run on £850,000 a year.

Now there are fears costs are “spiralling out of control” after it emerged the authority is set to spend £5.6million on staff salaries alone this year. Total operational costs of the combined authority are set to come to £7.6million.

In leaflets distributed when Conservative James Palmer was running to be mayor of the combined authority, Mr Palmer said: “Under my leadership, the new combined authority will have very few staff, less than 20, and will be very efficient, costing around £850,000 a year to run. Most authorities cost tens of millions. As mayor, I will make sure the cost is kept low.”

Today (November 26) Lucy Nethsingha, chairwoman of the combined authority’s overview and scrutiny committee, noted that costs at the authority were “considerable higher” than had been originally expected. She asked Mr Palmer what he had to say about the increased costs.

Mr Palmer now says he “can only apologise” for the increased costs of running the authority, saying he “underestimated” its running costs.

Mr Palmer said: “I can only apologise. I underestimated the cost of running such an important authority. I think, realistically, we were never going to be able to function on £850,000 a year.”

Mr Palmer said he was concerned about costs at the authority which is why he has commissioned a review of its structure. He also pointed out that the combined authority had taken on staff and spending from the local enterprise partnership (LEP), a group which supported business and sustainable investment and growth, which was scrapped in December 2017.

Mr Palmer also noted that senior staff at the combined authority were not earning more than similarly senior staff in other tiers of local government. He said, however, that after the review is completed, he anticipates the authority will be spending less on staffing. He said he expects running costs to be reduced as the authority relies less on consultants.

“It is a difficult one, “said Mr Palmer. “It’s something the general public rightly gets concerned about. It is their money. But we are working to deliver extraordinary infrastructure and doing things that were previously not achievable.”

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