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'I'm not walking away' Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough issues statement 'from the heart' ahead of Combined Authority AGM



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Cambridgeshire Mayor Dr Nik Johnson has vowed to carry on as he spoke at the start of today's annual meeting of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

In the carefully worded statement read out at the start of the meeting Mayor Dr Nik Johnson tried to address some of the controversy that has been swirling around him and the Combined Authority following the recent resignation of its chief executive Eileen Milner, only months after her appointment, and also of the dire concerns raised by an external auditor only this week.

In the statement, which is published in full below, he talks of his pride in leading the Combined Authority and outlines some of its successes in his first year as mayor.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson attended a public meeting in Wisbech to hear about the importance of saving a local bus service.
Mayor Dr Nik Johnson attended a public meeting in Wisbech to hear about the importance of saving a local bus service.

He also says he welcomes the letter received this week from the external auditor Mark Hodgson, of Ernst and Young, which sounded an alarm over the authority's ability to fulfil its statutory obligations citing among his reasons for such a warning as the number staff claims against the authority. A pay-out has already been agreed for Ms Milner, although it is unclear what sum has been paid to her.

He also said everyone had a right to raise concerns and have them listened to.

In his statement Mayor Dr Johnson said: "I am very conscious that today's AGM meeting has perhaps more attention than our regular meetings and I welcome those who have not been involved /listened in before.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson was in March recently for the official opening of the newly revamped railway station and car park.
Mayor Dr Nik Johnson was in March recently for the official opening of the newly revamped railway station and car park.

"I am also very conscious that in light of recent events there has been a lot of additional information and speculation in the public domain . Following advice from staff within the CPCA to date very little additional information has been heard from myself. I have followed this advice as there are several sensitive ongoing processes and I am very mindful of the need to respect these and to not be seen as trying to influence any outcomes.

"However, with these caveats in mind and in the context of the regular board agenda item of mayoral announcements I believe it is appropriate for me to now speak to some of these events:

"Firstly, I want to be very factual and give an overview of the last year.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson was among those digging in to start the work on the new training facility in Chatteris which received funding from the Combined Authority.
Mayor Dr Nik Johnson was among those digging in to start the work on the new training facility in Chatteris which received funding from the Combined Authority.

"This is the start of my second year in office. As a Combined Authority, we have achieved a lot during the past year. Soham Station – open, ahead of schedule and under budget, and being enthusiastically used by passengers. Improvements at March and Manea stations. Successful funding bids worth £40 million secured.

"Digital connectivity investment beating its target, and free wi-fi installed in Hunts, East Cambs and Fenland market towns. On course to deliver over 1,500 affordable homes. Over £4 million for Zero emissions buses. The University of Peterborough a reality at last, and getting ready to welcome its first students in September.

"All anchored in a Sustainable Growth Strategy that puts good growth, nature and human wellbeing at the heart.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnston took a ride on the number 68 Bus Route in Wisbech to talk to passengers about its importance to them as it faced being stopped through lack of funding. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2022. (57210663)
Mayor Dr Nik Johnston took a ride on the number 68 Bus Route in Wisbech to talk to passengers about its importance to them as it faced being stopped through lack of funding. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2022. (57210663)

"This isn’t to say we get everything right all the time, or that this Board always lives up to the consensual model that a Combined Authority ought to aspire to.

"We have been taking steps to improve the way we work. Steps have been taken to improve the way we consider risk, the way we measure outcomes from our projects, to start to get a handle on underspends. I know all Board members are very pleased that we have committed to making officers from constituent authorities, especially chief executives, much more a part of the way we work. We modelled this with climate change work but will increasingly see it happening elsewhere.

"Against that background, I welcome the letter we received this week from our external auditors. This kind of scrutiny is necessary and healthy. I agree with the letter’s analysis.

Cambridgeshire Mayor Dr Nik Johnson has issued a statement following on from news that the authority is facing possible financial problems. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2021.
Cambridgeshire Mayor Dr Nik Johnson has issued a statement following on from news that the authority is facing possible financial problems. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2021.

"The letter now needs to be followed up in discussions with Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and I am very pleased that the Board agreed earlier today to mandate officers to begin that process. We need to demonstrate a deep self-awareness about our need for improvement. I know all Board members will join me in committing to work together to start to rebuild our collective reputation as the good governors of this organisation.

"I hope this initial statement helps put into some context just how important the Combined Authority is to me on a personal level and to how much it means to me to be the mayor of such an organisation with such huge potential

"But to really put the last year in context, I want to give a more personal take on the last year and in particular the last few months.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson has made his opposition to plans for a mega incinerator in Wisbech clear.
Mayor Dr Nik Johnson has made his opposition to plans for a mega incinerator in Wisbech clear.

"I was once told by a very good friend that I was always at my best out campaigning and speaking publicly when I spoke as a doctor – the person , the children’s doctor I have been -day in ,day out for the last 30 years and not trying to speak like a politician . They were very wise words and on

reflection I now know why they were so insightful, it was because when I spoke like a doctor, I spoke from the heart .

"So here goe :

"As an NHS doctor, there is no one more aware of the importance that anybody within any organisation should feel empowered to be able to report their concerns, to throw light on problems and bring meaningful transparency and full scrutiny to an organisation. This is also true of the process of internal and external audit.

"No organisation and no single individual is beyond the public expectation of full scrutiny and full public disclosure - if there are concerns they should always be investigated.

"It is for this very reason that I am, and have always been, fully supportive of the need to use all means available, working with all organisations – local and central Government , using all internal and external processes for a full assessment of how the Combined Authority works and delivers for the community of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

"To make it absolutely clear some of these very concerns you have heard so much about in recent times are the very issues I have already raised and requested urgent review within the organisation over many months on numerous occasions .

"There are some incredible, dedicated, hard working staff within the Combined Authority. On a daily basis over the last year, I have been hugely impressed by their commitment, sense of public duty and their ambition to make positive and meaningful change for the communities they serve.

"I am proud to be the mayor and I am proud of the work the Combined Authority does on a daily basis – the way I have been welcomed and supported over the last year and the willingness of the staff to embrace the change which came with the arrival of a new mayor is the very reason that I feel inspired to keep going at the most challenging of times.

"We live in difficult times and the challenges that I have been faced recently are nothing compared to those real life trials of the fleeing refugees of the Syrian and Ukraine crisis, nothing compared to the daily challenge of dealing with a cost of living crisis where on a regular basis a decision is being made if you can eat or heat and nothing compared to the impending crisis of climate change threatening us all. These are the real challenges to our society today and they are the sort of problems that drove me to make the decision to leave the relative comfort of my hospital existence to try to help and support the same communities I serve.

"As the mayor I will be the first to acknowledge that the scrutiny, criticism and investigation has and continues to be an uncomfortable place. But I absolutely believe that it is of utmost importance that you, the public and the communities we all serve need the reassurance that any process of scrutiny of public figures is comprehensive and fully transparent.

"At all times, I have lived and continue to live by the 3 Cs values I so regularly talk about. I have been proud to bring these values to the role of Mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough .

"Compassion, cooperation, and community is the bedrock of all I stand for.

"Let’s be absolutely clear that following my election in May 2021 and my arrival at the Combined Authority the problems that the central Conservative government had already highlighted at the heart of the Combined Authority did not immediately disappear.

"I am genuinely sorry that trying to solve and work through all the legacy problems and challenges is taking so long. There is still so much to do. To turn the Combined Authority around it needs a huge commitment from us all.

"Like I said at the start, I speak from the heart. As a doctor I have seen the very best in human nature and I have seen the very worst. When the

going gets tough I am not the sort of person to walk away from a challenge. Trying to diagnose the problems at the centre of this wonderful organisation has been and continues to be one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced.

"At times it has felt that the Combined Authority has needed serious resuscitation to keep its beating heart going but I have never given up and I absolutely will not give up.

"No matter how challenging the circumstances, I know after just one year that the Combined Authority is absolutely worth the effort, it is an organisation capable of huge compassion and has so much to offer. I am not walking away and look forward to working and cooperating with all of you in the future to bring the positive differences we want for all our communities."



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