In the past three months, a third of a million passengers used bus services saved by an emergency cash injection from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA).
The figures were given by Gordon Mitchell, the interim chief executive, in an upbeat assessment of the Combined Authority to board members ahead of him handing over to new permanent chief executive Rob Bridge.
Mr Mitchell used support to the threatened bus services as an example of the turnaround being effected at the Combined Authority.
“You know there is sometimes a feeling in some of our meetings and particularly when we’re talking about improvement that everything’s about improving process,” he told board members.
“Actually, the reality is every week of every month the Combined Authority, working with the council officers, are delivering an enormous amount.
He said thousands were being supported through job training and hundreds of firms supported to set up in business.
“And many hundreds of new jobs created, protected, or supported,” he said.
“In the last three months, which is only the only data available, of those bus services that the Combined Authority, that you agreed to support financially, a third of a million passengers have been using your services.
Mr Mitchell said: “There’s been a series of evaluations and reviews from different departments about our work and the contracts with those. So, from DFE (the Department good sign off; from LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) related contracts great sign off.
“And on Net Zero where six months ago we were talking about the difficulties there as it turns out this wasn’t so far from the norm because of the way the schemes were designed nationally.”
He said that in a meeting with Lord Callanan (a minister responsible for Net Zero) several weeks ago there was constructive talks about an additional investment of £179m over the next two years “because we’ve turned around that bit of the operation and are one of the bigger players and now trusted in that way”.
He said: “So there’s a huge amount going on in your name and decisions you take.”
Mr Mitchell said he was offering his assessment “to counterbalance the sorts of discussions that we’ve been having and to move us more towards understanding the impact we’re having and some of the bigger policies that are emerging for the future”.
He then came to the possibility of additional devolved powers for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
“There’s been reference in other conversations and several times today about this changing landscape that is clearly creating an opportunity for another devo deal if we use that word, but I do,” said Mr Mitchell.
“I will say something about both the framing of that and the challenge but what I’ve also put here at the very beginning is that I think we would do well to understand the changing seas around all of this.
“When the original devo discussions were conducted in this area and the number of others seven or eight years ago it was all a bit new.
“The rules were very unclear. The asks and individual areas sometimes are very different, and the rules of the game weren’t really that understood. Some places got agreement; others were apparently told that they had good proposals but didn’t.
“Seven to eight years on I think the sense from Whitehall is they think they know what this is all about now; they’re very pleased that getting on for 60pc of the population in England are living in areas where there’s a directly elected mayor and they want more of that.
“They see that as a much simpler way to have local national discussions about delivery.
“The second thing is that the potential of a deal and the trailblazers in effect describe what could be on offer is not an open-ended discussion about all sorts of things; it sets a framework where an area needs to demonstrate what it would do with increased devolved powers if they were given and how that contributes to the government’s agenda because that’s the deal
“It’s not to do what you want locally: the deal is a deal with government to deliver.
“Therefore, the potential trailblazer model is a description of the areas where government has now rather settled its position of the types of things it’s prepared to consider for devolution
“We talked before a meeting of the mayor pool together four or five weeks ago when we had an initial inkling that the secretary of state was going to pursue further and broader devolution with combined authorities.
“And then much more recently about a week ago -the work that had been done with officials was converted into a view from the minister that said yes, he’d like a proposition worked up with the M10 – these are the 10 mayoral combined authorities.
“We have our opportunity to engage in this as part of the offer which is with the M10; it’s not a separate discussion for us it’s within that framework
“And the time scales are both incredibly quick but also that there are several stages to the first stage is incredibly quick so the trailblazer model of a deal has two phases to it and that would be how this would have to work.
“One is to answer the questions about what you would do with devo if we gave you these powers and how would that make a difference to economic growth in this area.”
Mr Mitchell said: “I sense that this needs to happen over the next five months leading into the Autumn Statement and it is of considerable relevance.
“The devo unit have been in touch asking for a meeting with us as an officer level in four weeks’ time
“That’s not a place to make a detailed proposal but I’m absolutely certain it’s a place where they will be assessing about whether we’re in the right ballpark or not with a level of ambition.
“And whether we’re prepared to put in the technical work that will be required which will be quite considerable in coming months to get into the right place.”
Mr Mitchell said: “I think it would be good to understand that this is a huge opportunity and the window for engaging is really quite short.
“It will require us to have a different sort of a discussion over the coming months
“There quite a changing landscape but I do I do think the underlying message really not to miss is this is where the game is going.”
The Mayor Dr Nik Johnson announced that he had asked Cllr Sarah Conboy, the leader of Huntingdonshire District Council, to act as lead member and to co-ordinate work on a second phase of devolution for CAPCA.
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