Combined Authority board putting ‘large amount of trust’ in new interim CEO

Gordon Mitchell was appointed last month (June) as the new interim chief executive officer

Gordon Mitchell (pictured) was appointed last month (June) as the new interim chief executive officer for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. - Credit: Archant/CAPCA

Members of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority board have said they are putting a “large amount of trust” in the new CEO to fix “significant weaknesses”.

Interim chief executive officer, Gordon Mitchell, was appointed last month (June) with the aim of bringing about improvements to how the authority is run. 

At a meeting on July 27, the board agreed to delegate some decision-making powers to Mr Mitchell in the hope he can bring about changes needed. 

The plans included delegating the authority to him “for the recruitment and appointment of additional resources," including interim chief officers and interim statutory officers. 

The plans also included delegating the authority to Mr Mitchell to be able to finalise the senior management structure of the Combined Authority. 

Cllr Chris Boden, from Fenland District Council, said the authority was at its “last resort” to agree to the “exceptional” delegation. 

Mr Mitchell recognised that some of the recommendations were “outside of normal business”, but said they were in response to “extraordinary times”. 

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In June, the external auditors highlighted the investigations into key individuals in the mayor’s office following a whistle-blower complaint, as well as the vacancies in the senior management team, and “weaknesses” in how decisions are made. 

The auditors said: “We’re concerned that the authority has insufficient capacity, capability, and an inappropriate culture to support effective governance and operation of the organisation and how it discharges its statutory services.” 

As a result of this, the department of levelling up said it would pause its funding, which the board meeting heard affected just under £1.4million.

Cllr Anna Bailey, leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, said Mr Mitchell’s delegation was “very large and unusual”. 

She described the number of recommendations was “daunting” and suggested that they needed to be prioritised and a time scale put forward aswell. 

She added that the authority lacked an overall strategy and policy direction and said without that there could not be detailed policy and projects. 

She said the quicker that work could be prioritised, the “better off” the organisation would be. 

Cllr Bailey said she also wanted to highlight the “elephant in the room” of the whistleblowing complaint which she said was “hanging over the organisation”. 

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, from Cambridgeshire County Council, said there was “no question” it was a “very substantial delegation”. 

She said: “We would not normally be handing that amount of authority to somebody. 

“We’re placing a very large amount of trust in you, [but] I want to make clear we are doing that on the basis of a really excellent four weeks. I’m very aware that we need to keep up that pace.” 

Cllr Lewis Herbert, from Cambridge City Council, said the board needed to delegate the authority to enable some of the “early work” to make new senior appointments, highlighting the authority was under capacity adding that staff “deserve stronger leadership”. 

Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, from Peterborough City Council, said the recommendations of the report were “great”, but said he would “reserve judgement” as to whether “real chance could happen”. 

Cllr Fitzgerald said the issue was also about leadership and said it was down to the mayor Dr Nik Johnson to “lead by consensus” and get support of the constituent members. 

He claimed that the mayor had made “no effort” to contact him or get him “on side”, and said that he had not had more than the “briefest” conversations with him. 

When the recommendations put forward by the interim CEO were put to a vote, they were all unanimously supported by board members.