Communities Secretary Sajid Javid meets devolution principals in Wisbech today - but side steps allegations by MP Steve Barclay over enterprise partnership chairman
PUBLISHED: 14:22 16 March 2017 | UPDATED: 15:20 20 March 2017
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid refused to be drawn today on whether he supported MP Steve Barclay's call for the chairman of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to step aside pending an inquiry.
Mr Javid was in Wisbech to meet some of the key players in the move to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution ahead of the May 4 poll for the county’s first directly elected mayor.
Mr Barclay has been critical of investment decisions and potential conflicts of interest involving, among others, the LEP chairman Mark Reeve, one of those attending today’s gathering. The LEP has a seat on the newly constituted combined authority that will, with the mayor, oversee the roll out of devolution in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
“LEPs play an important role locally and it would be wrong of me to talk about any particular LEP in terms of accusations,” said Mr Javid.
“What has happened in this case is when anyone has had any concern of governance the right place to deal with that, in this case, is the national audit office and it is for them to consider.”
The minister added: “I’d say it would be inappropriate for me to comment on allegations at this stage but what I’d also say is that this devolution deal is ground-breaking, is going to be transformative and the right leader is James Palmer.”
The meeting had been called at short notice by the minister to lend support to the mayoralty bid by Cllr Palmer, the leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council.
Mr Javid said: “We’ve got investment funds of £20 million a year guaranteed for next 30 years and it’s going to be for the combined authority with the new mayor to decide exactly how to apply those funds but it’s going to mean more jobs and growth and decisions are going to be made locally and I think is exactly the right way how to do it.
He said: “I think a combined authority is a recognition that actually some decisions over things like transport and skills are better made locally.
“Why should it be that people like me sitting in Westminster with all my officials should make all the decisions that are affecting local people?
“Let’s make more decisions at a local level and let’s use that local expertise to make a difference.”
Mr Javid said that by combining the right leadership “with the powers and the new money and it could be transformative.”
The ministerial visit today had been organised at short notice by Mr Barclay, the MP for NE Cambs, and some local council leaders were unable to attend.
Councillor Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council, said the very short notice precluded him or his deputy, Councillor Kevin Price, from attending.
“Given the busy schedules of government ministers we were surprised it was arranged seemingly at such short notice to other councils,” he said.
Lib Dem Rod Cantrill – second favourite with bookies to become mayor- wants Mr Reeve, who is also chairman of Chalfont Construction of King’s Lynn, backed calls for him to withdraw temporarily from his role on the combined authority.
Cllr Cantrill has written to Councillor Robin Howe, chairman of the combined authority, calling for an immediate investigation into allegations made by Mr Barclay.
He said the LEP currently has a voting position on the board of the combined authority but that this should be forfeited pending the outcome of an inquiry.
“The confidence of the public in the newly created combined authority is critical, particularly now at the start of its existence,” said Cllr Cantrill.
“There is a material risk that this confidence will be eroded as a result of the issues relating to the LEP raised by Steve Barclay unless that combined authority proactively acts to establish the facts.”