'Vital’ we do things better says new chief executive 

Alex Plant is new business board chair

New interim chief executive Gordon Mitchell (left) Mayor Dr Nik Johnson and (right) Alex Plant, new chair of the combined authority business board. - Credit: Archant

The interim chief of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) says he has joined at a critical time.  

Mr Mitchell told members of the overview and scrutiny committee: “Clearly, I’ve come into the organisation when lots of things are in play. 

“These include a set of circumstances that has seen the previous CEO leave her position because of a variety of issues, and serious matters much of which was meant to be confidential.” 

He said: “Through various media however, including a whistleblowing enquiry, leaks from within and a code of conduct enquiry, these have become public knowledge. 

“And this has come to a head through a letter from the external auditor who has taken the view that the governance of the authority is no longer fit for purpose.” 

Mr Mitchell says CAPCA is working on a ‘improvement framework’ outlining the need to undertake a self-assessment process and a formal improvement program. 

“It is vital therefore that the mayor and all members take this matter as very serious,” he said. 

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“The idea that commissioners taking decisions in an organisation that’s supposed to be democratically guided is quite wrong.

"But those are the sorts of measures that the government is considering.” 

Cllr Steve Count, Conservative on Fenland District Council, said: “I’ve described the CPCA before as a sinking ship and I’m really quite demoralised by just how far it has deteriorated. 

“It's in a bad shape at the moment, and I really hope that with somebody like Gordon at the helm we’ll be able to turn it around.” 

Cllr Martin Hassall, Lib Dem on Huntingdonshire District Council, asked Mr Mitchell if CAPCA can be turned around without commissioners being brought in. 

Mr Mitchell replied: “A few weeks in I honestly don’t know all the answers.

"There are still some stones to turn over, and there is a layer of general ‘chat’ and ‘chatter’ at the moment much of which isn’t accurate. 

“But, that said, if we replace the ‘chatter’ with facts and good communication in terms of confidence we will have to wait and see what level of intervention DLUHC will opt for."

Mr Mitchell added: “From the brief discussions I’ve had with them, they’re content that you’ve appointed me, and the things that I want initially to do are manifested in this report.

"But we’ll have to wait and see and have a review of the situation in mid-September.” 

Gordon Mitchell takes on a role that has been fraught with problems through the tenure of both mayors, James Palmer (2017-2021), and Dr Nik Johnson (2021-date). 

Since the inception of the CPCA five years ago, seven senior officers have either resigned or been fired by the mayor(s). 

Currently Mayor Dr Johnson is the subject of investigations into abuse of power, bullying and financial misconduct. 

In 2022, there have been at least 28 staff members who have resigned, and currently there are 36 advertised vacancies at the organisation, three of which are for the top jobs, including CEO and CFO. 

The previous CEO, Eileen Milner resigned from her £200,000 per year job after just a few months, citing ‘differences’ with Johnson similar to those that had been levelled at his predecessor.

Ms Milner said she couldn’t work with Mayor Johnson’s policies. 

Mr Mitchell was previously Chief Executive at Nottingham City Council and Bracknell Forest Borough Council. 

He has held the post of Interim Chief Executive at Tewkesbury, Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council and Great Yarmouth as well as the interim chief executive at Oxford City Council. 

Mr Mitchell also has extensive experience in the fields of education, economic development, and regeneration over the last 15 years. 

The role of interim CEO has a contracted day rate of £1,350 plus VAT, a figure benchmarked against other roles of similar responsibility and with the goal of balancing value for money with the ability to attract talented candidates. 

Members thanked the new interim CEO for his ‘Improvement Framework’ document and looked forward to hearing the changes it will bring about in time for their next meeting on August 26.