To Ely he shall go, backed by his combined authority, he commands a large majority, to Ely he shall go!

First floor of thus unit on the Alconbury Enterprise campus is let to the Cambridgeshire and Peterbo

First floor of thus unit on the Alconbury Enterprise campus is let to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority for now. Notice to quit is being served as they prepare to move. Picture; SAVILLS - Credit: Archant

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) will be leaving its headquarters at Alconbury and moving to Ely.

Mayor James Palmer received approval from members of the board at their meeting on Wednesday, June 3, however questions remain unanswered about the claimed costs savings involved in the move.

Addressing the board members, Cllr Kevin Price, Labour member on Cambridge City Council, asked questions at the meeting on behalf of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee who had voiced their concerns on May 29 over the savings claimed by Mayor Palmer.

Cllr Price said: “The paper accompanying this item refers to savings that will be achieved as a result of the surrendering of the lease of the combined authority headquarters at Alconbury.

“However, there are no assumptions included in terms of the costs associated with alternative accommodation. Can the Board provide a more accurate savings figure which takes into account such costs?

“Secondly, why is the combined authority paying a whole year’s rental costs to terminate the lease at Alconbury?”

Mayor Palmer replied: “So, the combined authority is looking to pay the £151,537.50 settlement figure because it represents a substantial saving over the total accommodation liability that would be incurred during the three-year period until the next break option in the lease, which is July 2023.

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“The settlement figure represents less than six months of the total annual accommodation cost which is £307,561, so we’re actually paying less than six months.

“The current situation is evolving and aside from temporary space, freehold options will be considered which will accommodate a mix of work practices and locations.

“These will be consulted with staff and an assessment of space requirements and costs will follow as part of any future proposal to the board.

“A more accurate savings figure will be provided to the Board when these options and costs are better known.”

Cllr Lewis Herbert, Labour leader on Cambridge City Council, said: “I don’t have a problem with the recommendation [to move], but I think if you take the example of someone moving home, normally you work out where you’re going to move to before you sell the old one.”

Cllr Steve Count, Conservative and leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “I don’t think you can boil down the costs [of moving] until you’ve fleshed that piece of work out.

“I know it’s included [in what you’re doing] but I just wanted to put down a ‘marker’ that I think that is the vital element.

“The costs are the primary driver for me – the size of the costs – so I’m happy to support the paper that’s in front of us and look forward to the rest of the figures being put before the Board”.

Mayor Palmer added: “There has been more nonsense written about this in the press than pretty much anything I can remember in the last year or so.

“The reality is this is a financial decision; the action came because of opportunity. Cllr Herbert mentioned that you don’t often sell a house before buying another one, but it depends what the deal is and this is a cracking deal for the combined authority.

“Some of the things that I have said about Alconbury have been taken completely out of context and things that I’ve never said have been put as fact in the press, which again is a complete and utter nonsense”.

However, some of the CPCA overview and scrutiny committee, whose members had questioned the validity of the move and the claimed cost savings, were far from pleased with the responses given.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Ed Murphy, Labour member on Peterborough City Council who had accused Mayor Palmer of ‘cooking the books’, said: “Originally the mayor stated the headquarters would be moved without the decision being made by the board and then he presented some figures. However, it’s now clear these don’t add up.

“It’s probably best to deal with facts and when and if there is an alternative plan that should be presented for consideration I do wonder whether all these costly headquarters are necessary when there are plenty of empty spaces for example here in Peterborough the council have sold Bayard Place and vacated the Town Hall”.

Cllr Marcus Gehring, Liberal Democrat member on Cambridge City Council, said: “I still find it extraordinary that the CPCA will be of no fixed address given the early lease termination and no other place to go to.

“This might be acceptable for a private person or when you treat the institution like your private portfolio, but for a public authority the idea that there are no physical offices is absurd. It has to have its own workspace and can’t exist just virtually.

“Against this background, it is a miscalculation not to take the necessary new office space into account, quite apart from the snub to the county council which sold its own move to Alconbury to the general public as ‘just collocation with the combined authority’.

“How any of this is in accordance with good public administration is really a big question for me”.

Cllr Lorna Dupre, Liberal Democrat on East Cambridgeshire District Council and chair of the overview and scrutiny committee, who had put the questions to Mayor Palmer, said: “The next meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee takes place on Monday, June 22.

“We will formally receive the mayor’s answers to our questions at that meeting, where committee members will have the opportunity to discuss with them and decide what further action we wish to take.”