How will Cambridgeshire County Council respond if the current bookies’ favourite, Cllr James Palmer (also on the County Council) gets elected mayor?

Before I start, ***Look at all these events and meetings on my Democracy Cambridge Page***

If the local councils won’t give us a one-stop place for interesting and important local council meetings, me and Puffles will have to do it for them.

Mayoral candidate tweet slams county transport officers

Cllr Palmer, who also leads East Cambridgeshire District Council for the Conservatives, sent this response to Chris Rand, editor of the Queen Edith’s newsletter here in Cambridge.

To say that the performance of county planning officers with the Greater Cambridge City Deal has been controversial is an understatement. Out of all of the party political candidates, Cllr Palmer has been the most prominent on social media, posting pictures of himself with a number of cabinet ministers.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Chancellor look so happy.

Cllr Rod Cantrill for the Liberal Democrats hit back, blaming the political leadership of both county council & the Greater Cambridge City Deal for the problems.

None of the other candidates have as yet commented.

The reason why this matters is that this further reflects the complications of a rushed policy which I’ve gone on record as opposing in principle – ie having a county mayor for such a wide and diverse geographical area. (Why are we wedded to the idea of political administration using historic counties anyway?)

Losing faith in senior officials

I can understand why Cllr Palmer has taken the position he has. Having watched the evolution of the city deal and the recommendations that have come forward from officers over the past couple of years – and the growing frustrations of those who wanted to work constructively with them, Cllr Palmer has made his position clear from the start. It remains to be seen what the other candidates say.

Don’t think that local Conservative councillors in South Cambridgeshire have been getting an easy ride over the City Deal issues to the west of Cambridge; they haven’t. The jam-packed local meetings at parish councils and also at Shire Hall that I have attended and filmed on behalf of and commissioned by local communities, is testament to that. Councillors and candidates are also acutely aware that with county council elections coming up, several seats that perhaps previously were not up for grabs might well be. Especially with demographic changes and the impact of the EU Referendum.

The problem for all sides is that this is not a situation that is going to go away. The situation we find ourselves in has its roots in the decisions made by both officials and by elected politicians.


The party political mess

The original city deal was negotiated during the Coalition years at a time when Cambridge City Council was under Liberal Democrat control. Less than a year later, after the 2015 general election, the city council was under Labour control and Central Government under Conservative outright, heading straight into their self-imposed EU referendum. This meant that the first politician in the chair of the City Deal Board was my local councillor Lewis Herbert, Labour’s leader of Cambridge City Council. Thus he has responsibility for delivering on a deal he had no say in negotiating.

Then there’s the instability of his Conservative partners. Cllrs Ray Manning and Steve Count, as leaders of South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council respectively, did not remain in post on the City Deal Board for long. They have since been replaced by Cllr Francis Burkitt and Cllr Ian Bates.


These chaps signed off the Greater Cambridge City Deal – Cllr Lewis Herbert having less than six weeks to get his head around the whole thing following his party’s victory at the City Council elections that previous month – when Puffles the Dragon Fairy snatched 89 votes off him and the other parties.

A failure by senior Conservatives in Cambridgeshire local government?

It does make me wonder why Cllrs Manning and Count agreed to be on the City Deal Board with Cllr Herbert only to resign later on. Far better from my perspective to have councillors that really want to be on there and make a real good go of it – knowing that the decisions that they will take will be controversial. With that in mind, Cllr Francis Burkitt was the first of any of the senior elected councillors on the City Deal Board and Assembly I saw to publicly reject a paper from officers and tell them to go back and do a better job with stronger recommendations. Since then, and under the chairmanship of Cllr Roger Hickford (Cons – Linton), we’ve also seen a lot more ‘push back’ from elected councillors to county council transport officials presenting to the City Deal Assembly.

A failure by elected politicians of all parties to hold transport officers to account?

In the grand scheme of things, I believe there has been a collective failure of the politicians on the City Deal forums to hold officers to account – particularly in the early days. In those very early days, the only person I can recall being vocal about these things was Cllr Bridget Smith.

A failure to see local residents and community groups as a shared resource to help solve difficult problems – instead they (we) became the difficult problem

This is the thing that makes me particularly frustrated. There was a ***huge opportunity*** for politicians and officers to bring the whole city and surrounding towns and villages to be part of this big problem-solving phenomenon. We could have brought together town and gown, built in the real life problems into school and college coursework so that students and young people could try and solve real life problems and present them rather than hypothetical ones. We could have opened up Cambridge University’s colleges and Anglia Ruskin University to shared events for the whole community. We could have brought the executives of those institutions whose functions cause some of our traffic problems – whether the private schools off Trumpington Road, Addenbrooke’s and the biomedical campus, the estate agents that sell properties, the big developers who don’t engage with communities at design stage – something now required by law in Wales.

“Assuming Cllr Palmer wins, then what?”

The question for him is how he’ll co-ordinate his staff with county council staff who he has effectively declared he has no confidence in.

The question for the county council is how they will work with a potential new mayor who has declared that he has no confidence in them.

This could become all the more awkward if the Conservatives win an absolute majority at the county council elections in two months time. Compared to pre-EU-Ref, I don’t really know how the county council elections will turn out. Much will depend on whether the Prime Minister has triggered Article 50, and on the strength of the Liberal Democrat resurgence especially in South Cambridgeshire where there is much disquiet over the stance of the Conservative Members of Parliament Heidi Allen and Lucy Frazer to back the Prime Minister over supporting leaving the EU. With a higher public profile and a stronger ‘Remain’ vote, Ms Allen has come in for stronger criticism. Note though that the border of Ms Frazer’s constituency is only two wards down the road from me, just as Ms Allen’s is over the road (though not for much longer due to boundary changes).

Jeremy Corbyn calls on Cllr Kevin Price

Mr Corbyn was in Cambridge very recently to give his support to Cllr Price, Labour’s candidate for the mayoral elections. It was Cllr Price who negotiated the concession on council housing for Cambridge.

The event was written up by the Cambridge News here.

As I wasn’t notified of the visit, I have no video footage of the speeches. As the Lib Dems informed me that former Health Minister Norman Lamb MP was visiting, I filmed an interview with him instead.

Ditto with their party’s president (and former councillor in Cambridge) Baroness Sal Brinton) who along with Cllr Cantrill spoke at an event at Hills Road Sixth Form College the previous evening.

The moral of the story for political parties is that if you want video footage of your meetings from me, please give me advanced notice and ensure your venues are easy to get to by public transport. Otherwise you might find that it’s your political rivals that get the video footage. Unlike previous years, I’m not going out of my way to chase after you.

Original source – A dragon’s best friend

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