A government minister has confirmed that statements made to the panel scrutinising Combined Authority (CA) decisions were either caused by ignorance or an attempt to “deliberately mislead” opponents of the Cambridge congestion charge.
As part of a campaign led by CA Board Member Cllr Anna Bailey and Anthony Browne, MP for South Cambridgeshire, Mr Browne wrote to the Department of Transport on January 12th. This followed a report written by CA officers claiming that the Department for Transport has linked local bus funding to road charging schemes.
In his response, the Minister for Roads and Local Transport, Richard Holden MP, confirmed that “road charging has never been a requirement of either the [National Bus Strategy] or [Bus Service Improvement Plan] guidance. It was not one of the criteria used to assess BSIPs, and its exclusion did not influence the allocation of BSIP funding in any way”. You can read the letter in full via the attachments below.
He went on to deliver a damning critique of the Authority’s inclusion of the misleading statement in their report, saying “This statement clearly came from someone who had either been misled themselves and was ignorant of the criteria surrounding funding or was being made by someone themselves attempting to be deliberately misleading”. The Minister thanks Mr Browne for bringing it to his attention.
The report has previously been condemned by the Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper, in response to a question from Mr Browne. At the time, the Secretary of State emphatically confirmed that any claims linking bus funding and road charging were untrue, stating that “bus funding has never been linked to road charging”. Cllr Bailey has also been actively pursuing errors and omissions by CA Officers, bringing forward multiple reports of CA committees being asked to approve work only to later find out that officers have already started or finished the work ahead of the meeting – in some cases, with hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money on the line.
The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority has since agreed to rewrite the report.
Anthony Browne MP commented: “This puts to bed any doubt that the road charging claims are anything more than a convenient narrative to deflect attention from a failing authority’s failed bid for funding.
“The Secretary of State for Transport himself categorically confirmed there was no link between bus funding and congestion charging, and now his Ministers have proved it. Meanwhile, the Combined Authority is unable to prove where, when, and if such a claim was ever spoken before being put in an official report to members of their own scrutiny body.
“The Combined Authority is out of control, leaderless, and now facing the local government equivalent of ‘special measures’. Someone needs to get a grip before their downward spiral becomes unsalvageable.”
Cllr Anna Bailey, Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council and CA Board member commented: “The “insufficient commitment to road charging” comment in an official Overview and Scrutiny report at the CPCA was an incendiary statement, presented as irrefutable fact, thrown into the middle of a bitter and divisive debate across Cambridgeshire about road charging. At best it represents a serious lack of judgment by Officers of the CPCA, at worst it is an underhand attempt to smooth the passage of the road charging proposals to fruition.
Equally concerning are the lengths to which I had to go, to expose the statement for what it is - a statement without any basis of truth whatsoever. This is indicative of the ongoing issues at the CPCA where proper process, governance, openness, and transparency appear to be alien concepts.”