The National Audit Office (NAO) has now published its findings of their investigation into the governance of the Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (the LEP). The investigation was triggered by concerns I raised with the NAO in March 2017.
At the time, the Chair of the LEP Mark Reeve dismissed my concerns as “wholly inaccurate and defamatory”. The LEP even launched a PR offensive criticising me for asking these questions on behalf of constituents, including making derogatory comments in the press and writing to Government Ministers, Council Leaders and Chief Executives to complain.
Last week, having seen the NAO draft report prior to publication, Mr Reeve resigned. The Chief Executive of the LEP Mr Darwin had already resigned earlier this year, following earlier questions I raised.
Mr Reeve’s resignation follows both criticism from the NAO and, as the report shows, the LEP also failed a Government review which resulted in their funding being withheld. So concerned was the Department for Local Communities and Government by its findings in Cambridgeshire that in April it commissioned a national review of LEP governance.
The report makes a number of damning findings which are too long to list in full, but include;
- The Department for Local Communities and Government “assessed GCGP LEP’s local assurance framework as not meeting the national framework’s requirements”.
This is despite repeated public assurances by the LEP over the last year that they were fully compliant.
- The LEP’s own lawyers – paid for out of taxpayers funds – found “the commercial interest between Chalcroft Limited and MM(UK) Limited may have been disclosable as a private interest in relation to the Nolan Principles.”
This relates to a £20 million construction contract secured by the building firm of the Chair of the LEP, located on the same enterprise site that hosted the LEP and received funding from the LEP. The LEP Board rejected a request by LEP Board member and Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council Steve Count to apply the Nolan Principles to their governance, so this was not an oversight.
- “GCGP LEP was unable to rely on its policies, procedures and recorded documentation to provide the evidence to respond to the concerns raised by Mr Barclay. Rather it has, for example, needed to strengthen its policies around conflicts of interest, obtain specific legal advice and has put in place improved procedures to record and publish board minutes and papers in a timely fashion”.
This lack of transparency remains key to the concerns I raised, for example we have still not had an explanation as to why Fenland received just one Agri-Tech grant in four years from the LEP totalling £46,500 out of almost £5 million of Agri-Tech funding, particularly given that Fenland is an agricultural district.
- “In February 2017 the Section 151 officer of the accountable body (Cambridgeshire County Council) certified GCGP LEP’s local assurance framework as compliant with national requirements, without fully checking all the supporting documentation”.
The NAO find that the Deputy Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire County Council, Chris Maylon, as s151 Officer, did not check the basic paperwork when a month earlier I had specifically flagged concerns to the County Council on this issue.
- In September 2017 “GCGP LEP and Cambridgeshire County Council have developed an implementation plan to drive improvements in their governance and in the Council’s oversight of GCGP LEP”.
So having raised concerns in January and asked the NAO to investigate in March, and after repeated public statements by the LEP that my concerns were inaccurate and misleading, it took a further 6 months before the County Council and LEP put in place the necessary improvements. The LEP is now on its third Assurance Framework within 12 months.
I would like to put on record my thanks to the Comptroller and Auditor General of the NAO, Sir Amyas Morse, and to NAO Director Aileen Murphie and her team, for the professional and thorough manner in which they responded to concerns raised by a Member of a Parliament on behalf of his constituents.
I would also like to thank Cllr Steve Count and Mayor James Palmer, who have both been willing to speak up and ask questions of the LEP in the interests of our area.
The NAO further note that “GCGP LEP recognises it needs to improve its processes. GCGP LEP has revised its conflicts of interest policy and procedures”. As such I hope we can now move forward positively to ensure Fenland receives a better response from the LEP in the future.
You may view the full NAO report here