Cambridge And….

Sam Davies MBE spotted this

So I went back through the 270 pages of papers from the Greater Cambridge Partnership from June 2020. Normally I tend to pick out the pictures, diagrams, maps and images in big packs of paper. If you want to hide something from me, don’t put it in a picture!

I’m not entirely sure how I centre-aligned it, but I managed it with the new WP set up which I still don’t like. Anyway, this stood out. So I went to the website and only got to a login screen.

You can read the full thread of comments and graphs from Sam Davies in this unrolled version. The plan for the new organisation is this:

The phrase “Source of Truth” seems to have caused more than a little concern. The satirist in me is shouting: “There is only one source of truth and you have to go to church to find it!” – reflecting the compulsory church-going of my childhood. This was one of the things I was not allowed to question growing up in Cambridge. So when anyone claims that only they have the answer to something complicated or is/has the only truth, I go all Monty Python’s peasant.

“Well I didn’t vote for you!”

Strange to type that with the polls about to close in the US Election that’s going to have a big say on the future of the planet. And only Americans get to vote. But then when it comes to not letting people vote while controlling their destinies, Britain has form – lots of it, in the British Empire.

“Who has been telling porkies about Cambridge?!?!”

It’s more about trying to find out what the context of the phrase “One source of truth” is. Because I’m still researching the history of Cambridge the town, and “The Cambridge Story” that I’m working on is likely to be very different to what the Cambridge& people have in mind. Not least because my story has already been lived by the Lost Cambridge Heroes that lived it. And my story is about people – and in particular the Women that made Modern Cambridge. (Which then makes me think how representative the organisation Cambridge& is, who it is accountable to, and how the decision-makers are held accountable for their decisions).

Looking at the deliverables, it is already behind in its timeline – the website should have been launched by now. The Cambridge Story element should be public by now. As mentioned, there is more than one Cambridge Story. Stephanie Boyd wrote one in 2005 published by Cambridge University Press. And going further back into history, the once mighty electronics company PYE of Cambridge produced their own film about their firm with the title: The Cambridge Story – wonderfully archived by the East Anglian Film Archive.

“So…who is their Cambridge Story for?”

To put it bluntly, ‘Not for poor people!’.

In fact the cluster navigation plan for their website answers some of those questions. This is aimed at potential investors in a selection of high economic value, high potential, knowledge-intensive sectors in and around the city. And in the grand scheme of things, I don’t actually have a problem in principle with such an organisation existing.

You could argue that such an organisation should have been set up decades ago. When I look at it from how Cambridge’s economy has grown, this makes sense to me. Had one been set up say in the 1980s to manage such inward investment, since then and today over that 30 year period it might have become one that had evolved with improvements in local and regional government so that things like East West Rail had commenced far earlier, and that the privatised water companies were already building the pipelines from the West & Wales in response to the water crisis that we have. But that didn’t happen. Successive governments from Thatcher onwards have shown little interest in overhauling Local Government in England at the scale that is needed – the last time being in the early 1970s


Above – from 1944, past proposals for local government reform with four county councils and a series of even smaller borough and district councils. This is markedly different from one of the proposals from 2020 by the Centre for Cities below.

Above – from the Centre for Cities, they produced a map for England made up of lots of new unitary councils – with Cambridgeshire Unitary being identified by 64.

Who is involved or listed? (P86 GCP June 2020 papers)

Above – looking at the diagram, which groups, sectors, cohorts, and organisations are missing? Who is conspicuous by their absence?

There are a number of shortcomings on governance and accountability. These were explored by Sam Davies in more detail earlier today.

Furthermore, Ms Davies questions some of the underlying assumptions and evidence-bases made in the business case for Cambridge&. These include whether it is reasonable to compare the absolute economic figures of the geographical area of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough with say Greater Manchester or Greater Liverpool?

Compare Greater Manchester, West Midlands, and Cambridgeshire & Peterborough (CPCA).

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough appears to come out far worse on successes & new jobs versus the other two. But are they measuring the right metrics? Let’s compare populations.

Greater Manchester has approaching 3million people in its geographical boundaries. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, covering a larger geographical area with a different climate has just over 800,000 people, and a train network that can get you to King’s Cross in under an hour when there are no service disruptions. When you start looking at the differences in social and economic indicators as Ms Davies does, you start to wonder whether Greater Manchester has a more compelling case for international investment.

“Are you saying Cambridge& should be abandoned and scrapped?”

Not at all. For a start, the table above on those involved and listed does not mention central government at all. That’s not to say ministers would be turning down invitations to splendid dinners at ancient colleges to celebrate the launches and successes of the organisation. One of the things I tell students at Cambridge University who are campaigning on social issues is that politicians and business executives like invitations to Cambridge colleges – especially if there’s a formal dinner involved. Which means that in return you get the opportunity to ask them lots of difficult questions when they are there – opportunities the rest of the country very rarely get.

Essentially the consortium of involved parties (bar local government) can do what they like. They are private entities. The decision on whether Cambridge should be the recipient of so much inward investment to the detriment of other parts of the UK is a political decision that must be taken by ministers – decisions for which they must be held accountable by Parliament.

And simply leaving things to ‘the market’ is a political decision.

“Are political decisions bad things? I mean no one likes politicians these days, do they?”

I like politicians – I spend part of my daytime watching Parliament TV for a start. Having stood as an independent candidate I can’t really complain. No – the serious point is that politicians and politics are critical components to how our society and economy is governed and administered. This is a separate issue to what the public thinks of them and why. The people and institutions behind Cambridge& are not to blame ultimately for the state of local economies in other parts of the country. To blame them would be to let ministers off the hook for things they have legal and political powers to deal with.

To expand on that point about ministers and political decisions, the failure to have sound and efficient rail-based public transport services linking Cambridge to towns such as Haverhill, St Neots, Wisbech, Chatteris and so on are political decisions. Successive governments had the opportunity to link Cambridge’s rapidly growing economy to those towns, and improve links to places like Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds, Norwich, Peterborough and beyond. They chose not to.

More political decisions – the decision not to run with Cambridge Connect Light Rail

This is Dr Colin Harris’s proposal which I’ve backed for a number of years and run the Facebook page for. See his website for more details including a more detailed/readable version of the map below.

Above – a snapshot of a possible light rail network with an underground tunnel for Cambridge and surrounding villages based on existing technology. i.e. not CAM Metro as proposed by the Combined Authority and the Mayor. Again, the decision by the Mayor and approved by the Combined Authority *is a political decision*. It is a political decision the Ministers and Parliament authorised them to make under the powers that Ministers and Parliament delegated to them when the system of metro mayors and combined authorities was set up under David Cameron’s Government in 2016.

Questions of transparency and accountability

I’ve spent the past decade blogging about these issues that I’m almost bored of them – I’m certainly beyond outrage and anger about them anyway. I’m too old, tired, and ill to get angry at stuff now.

But these things matter and we are all finding out just how much they matter with the scale of corruption, cronyism, and incompetence demonstrated by Boris Johnson’s administration. The fact is people have died before their time as a results of the decisions – and indecision of the Prime Minister and his ministers. The scale of this inevitably means that once we are collectively through this – a phrase I regularly use because this indicates that I am not taking it for granted that I’ll survive this pandemic, we will face a constitutional overhaul similar to what happened when Clement Attlee became Prime Minister. The reason why I think this relates to all of the ‘new old books’ that I’m reading. The ones published in wartime are all about the sort of society they wanted to build once the war was over. So much of what the authors wrote resonates with what we’re seeing in column pages, blogposts, policy discussions, and even in protests on the street. Business as usual it won’t be. So the proponents of Cambridge& need to do some very serious thinking about transparency, accountability, and how they work *with* the residents and communities in and around Cambridge. Because it is not a given that the people who live and make up the City of Cambridge or the County of Cambridgeshire will accept such an organisation in the post-Covid19 world. Even more so given that the climate emergency has not gone away, and Extinction Rebellion (irrespective of whether you agree with their aims & methods or not) having already shown how it can mobilise activists.

“That sounds like a threat”

It isn’t. It is a reminder of the world that we are moving into – one of a climate emergency where society no longer accepts the assumptions of times gone by around allowing businesses to pollute while making money. We are moving to a place where there is a growing expectation on businesses to be socially and environmentally responsible. When that happens, politics and regulation follows. History shows us that. Better to be ahead of that curve than behind it by working with the people of the city and county, rather than in spite of them.

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