Why are Cambridgeshire’s public services chronically underfunded?

And what is the point of having a county full of Conservative MPs – including former and current ministers, if our spend per head on things like policing and schools remains some of the lowest in England?

It was something I noticed at the meeting of the Police & Crime Panel where the Police & Crime Commissioner tabled his proposed budget and precept – how much council tax payers are going to contribute towards his budget. You can see the papers here.

“Cambridgeshire is one of the lowest funded forces per head in the country. In recent years the Home Office’s policing grant allocation has not taken into account population growth.”

Agenda Pack, p28, PCCCambs 02 Feb 2022

It also got a mention in the Police and Crime Plan 2021-24

Above – from the Police & Crime Plan 2021-24.

So…despite all of the housing growth, yet again ministers have refused to provide the funding for the essential public services needed to enable the communities to flourish. The other alternative is to enable local councils to tax the wealth that we’re told Greater Cambridge generates. But that’s not allowed by law either.

It doesn’t look good for healthcare either.

“Cambridgeshire and Peterborough continues to be one of the most financially challenged health systems in the country. We receive less per person for spending on healthcare than our neighbouring Care Commissioning Groups”

Cambridgeshire. & Peterborough CCG Annual Report 2018/19, p4

You can find links to the 2020/21 reports here.

Ask any teacher at county state schools and they will tell you how badly underfunded Cambridgeshire’s state schools are

Ben Hatton wrote about the underfunding of our schools a year ago, just before he moved down to London with the Press Association.

“Right, so that’s very low funding per person for police, healthcare, and schools. What else are we underfunded for?”

The courts.

The Annual Report from the Police & Crime Commissioner 2020-21 tells of problems processing cases.

“The criminal justice system has not been able to progress cases at the same rate and as such there is a backlog of cases waiting to be heard [in Court]. This has led to an increase of victims and witnesses within the system.”

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Police & Crime Commissioner Annual Report 2020-21, p5
We already know about the hit to local government finances in Cambridgeshire.

I wrote about them here.

Above – House of Commons Library Briefing on Localgov Finances, p7.

The real life consequences are serious

as Jack Monroe explains in this hard-hitting thread.

Despite ministerial rhetoric on all things economic growth – of which we see lots of the building work in and around Cambridge, ministers continually deny funding to ensure the infrastructure and public services are properly provided for, while at the same time preventing local councils from taxing the financial gains to cover those costs.

In the meantime the county the voters in the rural seats in particular have been returning Conservative MPs – including current and former ministers on a continual basis since the 1990s.

Above – the state of the seats in Cambridgeshire after the 2019 General Election

A question party political campaigners could put to Cambridgeshire voters outside of Cambridge is:

“In the face of your Conservative MPs continually voting for and maintaining some of the lowest public service funding in the country for your neighbourhood, why do you keep on voting for the same party?

As one Wisbech resident posted:

Wisbech, which falls under Fenland District Council is dominated by the Conservatives – almost the complete opposite to Cambridge City. 40 miles between the two, but with very different political cultures.

Details of past elections can be found here.

What happened to Labour’s presence in the mid-1990s is a story for local historians of North Cambridgeshire.

If Levelling Up is going to mean anything to the general public, it has got to involve far more than ministers handing out pots of money and expecting people to be grateful for their charity. Or as Save the Children Founder Eglantyne Jebb said to the Cambridge Independent in July 1910:

“I was a long time realising that the social reform on the part of the Conservatives is like charity in the hands of a Lady Bountiful – everything to be made nice and pleasant, but the ‘upper class’ is to be respected and obeyed.

The corruption of elections first opened my eyes and I came to believe that no social reform could be of use that did not promote the independence of the people.”

Eglantyne Jebb, then of the Cambridge Liberals, to the Cambridge Independent. 08 July 1910.

Or, as Jess Studdert of New Local (who some of you will know) wrote in response to the Levelling Up White Paper:

“Having been defunded for years and forced to take tough decisions over discretionary services, here is that same government now creating a series of funds for things like youth services, high streets and culture. Having taken away the core council funding that supported these public goods in the first place, the government apparently now expects credit for giving it back.”

Jess Studdert – Local Government Chronicle, 02 Feb 2022.

As I wrote in my previous blogpost, there is so much lacking with the Government’s proposals on Levelling Up that it cannot be considered a serious, stable, long term base on which to ‘build back better’ in the face of the triple shock of Brexit, Covid19 and the Climate Emergency.

The onus is now everyone else – whether opposition parties, campaign groups, community organisations, public policy organisations, and more, to come up with something far better. That will inevitably mean working together and breaking through organisational and cultural silos. That’s not from me – that’s from one of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough’s independent climate commissioners – Cambridge University medical student Rhiannon Osborn.

This was from her presentation to CamCycle on 01 Feb 2022 which you can watch here.

Food for thought?

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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