The County Skills Strategy by the Combined Authority

It raises a number of questions about transport and accessibility amongst other things. And on last night’s vote in the Commons – followed by a tyre-screeching U-turn so extreme that it showed up on the pollution monitors as a breach of limits on particulate levels in the air.

You can read the report in the meeting papers here – item 3.1 Appendix 1.

But first this…

Cambridgeshire Climate Commissioner Rhiannon Osborne (who I featured here) confronted the Business & Energy Secretary at the Glasgow Climate Talks over his policy failings.

Above: Speaking truth to power without fear or favour.

And then Westminster had a day like no other.

The resignation of the disgraced Owen Paterson as MP for North Shropshire (of whom over 60% of the electorate voted for him in 2019, so a safe-as-castles blue seat) was announced by various news people. It wasn’t a good day for Parliament with the sentencing of Claudia Webbe, though note she is appealing, so recall proceedings cannot take place until that process has been completed assuming the appeal is unsuccessful.

If you are unfamiliar with the whole case regarding former Defra Secretary Paterson, watch/listen to the speech by the Chair of the Standards Committee of the House of Commons, Chris Bryant MP. In full. It’s worth the effort. Because it makes the whipped vote last night all the more incredulous. As Mr Bryant rightly said, Paterson brought the House of Commons into disrepute. As the Report stated:

Aggravating factors included:

No previous case of paid advocacy has seen so many breaches or such a clear pattern of behaviour in failing to separate private and public interests.

Mr Paterson’s financial remuneration from Randox and Lynn’s amounted to nearly three times his annual parliamentary salary.

Mr Paterson’s actions demonstrate a failure to uphold the Seven Principles of Public Life.

Mr Paterson has made serious, personal, and unsubstantiated allegations against the integrity of the Commissioner and her team.

Mr Paterson is a former Minister, and an experienced long-serving Member of the House.

Committee on Standards publish report on the conduct of Owen Paterson

Also, those MPs who stated they ‘rebelled by abstaining’ are now getting the full-on social media lampooning.

Historically, voters still punish MPs over controversial votes – esp if it is a clear break of a manifesto commitment or goes against a party’s core values. Certainly locally here in Cambridge when the MP is in the party of government, as Anne Campbell for Labour over tuition fees, and Dr Julian Huppert for the Liberal Democrats over the Coalition’s record found to their cost. (Even though Dr Huppert kept his commitment & voted against tuition fees when the regulations came to the vote). Dr Huppert lost by only 600 votes in 2015 in a hotly-contested election in the city that year.

The Chair of the Committee for Standards in Public Life fires this exocet.

I wrote at the end of my previous blogpost last night that I’d hold fire until Lord Evans had delivered the above speech. (Scroll to the end here). Such was the devastating blow that Lord Evans struck that by the afternoon, the ship keeping Paterson afloat was sinking quickly. And Johnson allegedly ditched him without telling him.

All of this has sadly meant that the Glasgow Climate Conference and The Budget Scrutiny has now been relegated. As has the shambolic preparations by ministers for the inevitable health crisis over the winter. Here’s what’s happening at Addenbrooke’s. The local MP for South Cambs has failed to ensure ministers delivered the necessary additional resources – despite pitching himself as the candidate close to Johnson & team who could deliver for South Cambridgeshire back in 2019.

Above – by Cllr Ian Sollom (Liberal Democrats – Harston & Comberton) who stood against him in 2019.

So that’s Westminster done with, what about skills?

New papers here. Also, county council watchers may note the Full Council meeting next week – papers are here.

The above map from the Employment & Skills Strategy shows the inequality across the county. The map below needs refreshing. It misses too many institutions.

Above – no College of West Anglia, no ARU Cambridge.

Accessibility matters. Now let’s look at some data maps from the DfT/ONS.

“In 2019, the average minimum journey time to access a range of 8 key local services from where people live was:

  • 10 minutes by car
  • 16 minutes by cycle
  • 18 minutes by public transport or walking
  • 28 minutes by walking only

…but once you start to disaggregate the data by geography, the inequalities are stark. Click on the accompanying maps here to see the detail.

Above – this is by using public transport or walking to 8 key local services. The cities stand out as being shaded lighter, but it speaks volumes when you compare it to the access by car below.

Above – using the same scale, but a very different picture is painted.

“What policy options does the Mayor have?”

It depends on what timescale Dr Nik Johnson wants to approach this issue by – something he has already framed his administration and ambitions by: He prioritised buses in his election campaign because he said the office of Metro Mayor has a limited budget and a short term of office – four years. Think of the access to colleges – and to public services generally in different time frames: Short term, medium, and long term.

Short term:

Perhaps over a couple of years at most, his main focus might be prioritising immediate investments in bus service improvement. He recently scored some success on this with the announcement on the zero emission buses. This will have involved directing his transport staff to focus on bids to the Department for Transport on available funding pots over things such as the CAM Metro that his predecessor and election opponent Mr Palmer focused on. Again, that is a political decision that we as electors are invited to pass judgement on at elections. These may also involve ‘quick wins’ – putting resources and political support behind more local schemes such as new urban cycle lanes and pavement improvements – or even repairs to key strategic roads in a poor state.

Medium term:

Five years give or take a couple either side, this might involve some transport infrastructure improvements such as extended cycle lanes and new cycleways that connect rural areas with each other and to urban areas. The reason being that such improvements often require land acquisition rather than making different use of existing highway spaces (eg converting a bus lane into a wide cycleway where a bus service has been pulled). It may also involve a wider overhaul of things like bus network planning – and require significant research spending and data collection.

Long term:

Anything longer than a decade. The two significant policy options here are ones of principle: Do you build the transport network up to serve the institutions that are already there, or do you start planning for new institutions/moving existing institutions to places that are under-provided for?

For example the City of Cambridge does not have a specialist adult education college that’s like CityLit in London. I believe Cambridge is big enough to host such an institution for it to be viable, and I also believe one can be founded and located in a place where it can serve surrounding towns and villages. But there are problems – not least that the legal and financial powers still rest with ministers.

When we look at the map of further and higher education institutions, the fact that it is inaccurate/incomplete is a concern because if you are making decisions with poor date, you’ll make poor decisions. So the Mayor may want to commission a much more robust and detailed map of not just the colleges, but of all of the providers of training and education for adults – one that denotes type of institution (public, private, not-for-profit), and the type of training and education they offer. If you can cross-reference those with public and active transport access, you soon find where the geographical gaps are.

Case study: The cluster of further education students in South Cambridge.

I won’t go into the long history, but due to rapid expansion of student numbers in the 1990s due to Central Government policies, plus the establishment of new colleges in the area, we now have an over-concentration of providers/places of courses for 16-19 year olds in the context of course provision elsewhere, and the provision of local facilities for them all. Either way, they are losing out by having to take extended commutes on unreliable and overcrowded public transport – while local residents continue to complain about parking congestion as they have done for the last quarter of a century.

In the short/medium term you improve the transport provision to the institutions, and in the longer term you ask which institutions can be moved out of the area to another part of the county.

Is it as simple with long term things? No.

Because if you are looking very long term, you get into the realms of whether things should be like they are in the first place. Such as whether in 25 years time exam-based courses will be needed and necessary.

Will politicians and policy-makers still think that having 2 year A-level or similar courses for 16-19 year olds is the way to proceed? That’s a big question. If they do, then I’ve suggested moving The Perse on Hills Road out to a site next to where the Cambridge Sports Lakes south of Waterbeach has been proposed, thus securing the financial viability of that site (I don’t know what it is about private schools and rowing – must be an oxbridge thing), and moving Hills Road Sixth Form College out to Cambourne next to where the East West Rail station is due to be, taking advantage of the green open spaces there and creating a new mix of playing fields and outdoor learning facilities for learning – eg Environmental Sciences.

Then again, you have the long term issue of whether private schools will even be a thing given the moves in some areas to nationalise and/or abolish them. Throughout the 20th Century this was a recurring political debate – whether all schools should be nationalised similar to the way most hospitals were nationalised under the NHS. The best chance Labour had to do so was in Attlee’s government when it had both the parliamentary majority and the sympathy of the electorate after WWII, and a critical mass of politicians wanting it to happen. They may not get another chance like it.

If Hills Road did move, what do you do with the stranded asset of its building stock?

Which is always a question when you close any institution – such as Papworth Hospital’s old Papworth site. (Bought by this company, after which the trail of who owns what becomes unnecessarily complicated – I was today years old when I found out about the concept of professional trustee services).

Personally I think it would make for a suitable adult education college site. The map below provides a good example of the changes that can happen to an area over the long term.

Above – From G-Maps here.

Below, the Cambridge Station and Cambridge Leisure Park site in the early 1980s, from the Romsey Local Plan 1986 in the Cambridgeshire Collection.

Above – it wasn’t called the Leisure Park in those days. It was called the Cattle Market because it was Cambridge’s functioning cattle market, built in 1895. See the sheep pens and cattle pens marked? It all pre-dates The Junction – which was only founded after young people literally had a riot on East Road in 1985 as their complaints about closing music venues went unheard for decades. All those offices and apartments on the west side of Hills Road bridge? They were all railway yards before. That big grey block above the cattle pens? Cambridge Water Company’s HQ.

All of these changes happened in my lifetime living in the neighbourhood since the very late 1970s. Could some of the private green fields on the east side of the railway line be converted into urban parks, while still maintaining enough open space for the sports pitches and the Rugby Club? Clare College told Cambridge City Council planners it wanted to sell off its playing field – could that be turned into an urban park perhaps with much-needed key-worker housing for Addenbrooke’s built on the periphery? Could a pedestrian and cycle bridge be built over the railway line and busway to link the new housing on the west side of Hills Road to the facilities on the other side?

So…how do we get all of this then?

No idea.

Actually, we’ve seen in principle how it could work with the Olympics in London back in 2012. For really long term plans, there has to be agreement of the principles at the very start across the political parties. One of the few things John Major got credit for in what I still think was his disastrous government, was laying the foundations for the London 2012 bid. For he founded the institutions that created the political space (The Department for National Heritage – now DCMS), and the financial space (National Lottery) that enabled the bid to be put together. Note one of the criteria for such bids set by the IOC is cross-party political support so that in the event of a change of government, the work continues. That could be the same principle adopted for long term changes in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough. But that’s easier said than done. Just ask the former residents of The Kite.

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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