Cllr Sam Davies asks for ideas to start conversations between candidates and Cambridge’s electorate

I’ll list her points from her blogpost at the end here:

  1. “What is your candidate’s vision for the future of this city, and how do they propose we should get there? 
  2. If they talk about ‘affordable’ housing or ‘sustainable’ development, what do they actually mean and what do they understand the environmental constraints to be?
  3. Given the Council’s need to shave another £7m of its budget, which services will they prioritise, and which will be sacrificed? 
  4. What will they do to ensure that the wealth generated here is retained in the city and distributed widely?
  5. And how do they intend to really work in genuine partnership with residents, given the powerful interests lining up to exert their influence over our city and our region?”


How to make it not sound like a 1980s advert. Like “Our vision is for a city where people can work, rest, and play!”

Above. 1980s TV advert.

Firms have gotten into the habit of lazy advertising, whether it’s the “Be part of it” strapline to the tourism m o n e y – s h o t s of the Cambridge Colleges – irrespective of whether their businesses have anything to do with said institutions.

Affordable and sustainable – for whom?

“Sustainable development is a term so generic as to be meaningless. Discuss.” – was the title of a university-era essay I had to write some two decades ago. A similar essay could be written about the term ‘affordable housing’. Because the House of Commons Library concluded a few weeks ago that there is no agreed term for ‘Affordable Housing’.

£7m of cuts to council spending, and ensuring wealth generated remains in Cambridge

I wouldn’t know what to go for – but I’d note for people new to this that the City Council’s Budget page for 2022 here is one starting point. Changes to both in the grand scheme of things require changes in the law – and that can’t come except from Parliament. And that won’t happen in this present one. Not one where both the Prime Minister & Chancellor of the Exchequer can stay in office despite The State coming to the conclusion that both broke the law – hence the fixed penalty notices (as an alternative to prosecution and potential criminal records if convicted)

In partnership with residents in the face of huge vested interests

This is the one that’s probably best worth exploring in an election campaign likely to be crowded out by national and international issues.

A Cambridge Societies Fair

I first wrote about this way back in 2012 – a decade ago. Ever since then I’ve been calling unsuccessfully for this to happen.

The former Volunteer for Cambridge events evolved out of my early calls but unfortunately did not deliver on their potential in terms of numbers of new people getting involved in volunteering – even though one of the fortunate by-products of the events was that it got many voluntary organisations into the same hall at the same time, enabling them to meet often for the first time.

The Big Weekend on Parker’s Piece, July 2022

“Traditionally, the Big Weekend takes place every summer on Parker’s Piece and includes big-name performers plus local musicians, a French market, games, educational activities, fireworks, and lots of family-friendly entertainment. “

The Big Weekend – Cambridge: 01-03 July 2022

This for me is where a societies’ fair might work – though they’ll need to get their skates on if it is to happen this year. But given these pandemic-hit times, holding it outdoors with lots of passing foot-traffic might not be a bad idea.

You cannot have a meaningful partnership with residents if the residents don’t have a picture of who does what in Cambridge

Below left – public health and welfare services from the 1960s in Cambridge, and from 30 or so years before – the old Cambridge Blue Book – a directory of who did what in town

Above – I’ve digitised the public health & welfare services handbook here.

I dare say that many councillors and local government officials don’t have that big overview of who does what in/for Cambridge.

Above – some snapshots of who was responsible for what, back in 1937.

“They may have been scoundrels but at least you could find them in a single book! (And not be fobbed off by some outsourced call centre answerphone message recorded in the USA!”)

Me, moaning about the recorded message from one public service provider who contracted their telecoms services with a US company – including a really annoying automated voice recording in an American accent that is straight out of a B-list 1980s movie with outrageously large shoulder pads. “Your call is Xth in the queue! Please hang on in there! Your call is important to us!” Or words to that effect.

Just getting that snapshot as a starting point might be enough to begin those discussions and the analysis needed. Because at the moment our public services are far too fragmentedas I wrote in March 2022.

This also comes back to clubs and societies – we don’t have a detailed, shared picture of what’s already happening, what used to happen but has stopped, and what we’d like to happen but is not happening. Hence having annual societies fairs would allow for those refreshers for existing residents, and a new source of information and social links for new residents, which given our increasing population turnover is not a bad thing to have.

Corporate Social Responsibility – how to make it meaningful at different levels – county, city, area, neighbourhood.

We’re all familiar with the various schemes by supermarkets of dropping a token into a box to support whichever local charity has successfully applied to be one of the supported groups for the quarter. But again we don’t have a city-wide picture of which firms are offering what – whether finances, equipment, support in kind, and/or even a group of well-meaning people wanting to work on something for the day/week. As I asked in a previous blogpost, How can Cambridge’s employers support civic society in improving our city and county? Because at the moment I don’t think many of them know, because no one has given them a consistent set of information on how to do this.

There is the Cambridgeshire Community Fund, but as I found out during my civil service days working on community development policy, all too often the money goes to those who have the best understanding of the grant application systems rather than to those that have the best idea or who are working in those areas with the greatest need. Far better to come up with something that enables councils to find those with the greatest potential and have them supported through a more efficient and more effective system that does not compromise accountability for funds. Part of the conversation also has to involve more consolidation within the sectors – in particular where there is duplication. Furthermore as I’ve written previously, there’s a role for funding paid part-time/call-off administrators who can do that essential administrative work for community groups – eg Secretary and Treasurer roles (which might suit people only wanting to work part-time – such as parents on career breaks or who want a gentler re-introduction to the work place in a job that pays a reasonable wage).

Some random other things:

Here are some things from various lists & blogposts I’ve written over time:

Racks for rental e-scooters

“How to…?” guides for elections – teaming up with Democracy Club to make better use of all things digital to get people registered to vote, and to engage with candidates before polling day.

Routine use of supermarket notice boards and bus stops for important public service announcements

…such as this one in Fulbourn. These could also announce invitations for people to stand not just for election to local government but as members of NHS trusts (which is the route into voting for, and standing as a candidate for governors), to becoming school governors.

Make it easier for people to learn how our city functions, and how our governance systems both function and malfunction.

Above – I wrote about the Penguin Specials / Pelican books such as the ones above

….because if we can get going on those, we might not get ‘the wrong politicians’ as Isabel Hardman wrote in her book. But that also means getting people meaningfully involved in local democracy and local decision-making that starts at an early age and becomes ‘normal’.

Above – three more books.

Railways? Buses? Tramways? Light Rail? A combination? In my experience if councils can get the working relationships right with those who are regular public transport users, they can go onto become not just passive users but the ‘eyes and ears’ of how well the systems are functioning, and before you know it they are advocates for the much-needed culture change that we have to get if we are to avoid the climate catastrophe that we’re heading straight towards.

Above: Train spotters and bus historians: don’t knock them. In fact I’d encourage the publishers to make a much bigger sales push at the transport hubs where most of their regular passengers are to be found. I started buying Modern Railways when I discovered the fortune I was spending on season tickets during my commuting days. And for anyone interested in a light rail solution for Cambridge & surrounding towns & villages, there’s Tramways & Urban Transit Magazine. Why does this matter? History tells us. Back in 1944, the publishers of the latter magazine published a vision for the future of urban transport involving trams and light rail. Have a read of it here. Our predecessors were warned.

Public Art – I get the impression what people don’t want, but what is it that they do want?

We had a consultation in 2021. Then in 2022 we all rediscovered what was planned for the River Cam and all hell broke loose. Which is why consultation matters, and Cambridge hasn’t been doing well at all on that front, as I wrote here. – and too many of our local and county organisations have been failing. Which indicates that trying to address the problem is something they could do jointly. For me, part of that involves making use of events councils already fund, and having genuinely engaging outreach activities that get hundreds of people involved – for example at The Big Weekend, or the community fairs at summer and winter.

What is the role of university and further education students? What could it become?

I had a look here at a new generation of campaigning students making the case for closer working with town groups and institutions. Students are inevitably an easy target because of the rapid growth in student accommodation. But that’s not the fault of the young people. That’s the result of institutions not working constructively with the city authorities.

What do we mean by Community Pride?

This challenge was put to everyone by the New Local think tank – which I wrote about here. Because it still feels like a bit of a nebulous/vague concept at the moment.

Learning lessons from the past.

A reasonable question to ask the longer-serving councillors:

“Give an example of where something you / your party did in local democracy where everything went really badly wrong. What did you learn from it?”

This is always a difficult interview question to answer because you have to acknowledge your own failings in order to answer it. At the same time, knowing how to deal with failure sets you up stronger later on down the line. At a bigger scale, what are the lessons learnt from previous generations of house-building? Like Cambourne’s early stages? This might be something that council planners can negotiate with developers to commission, publish, and make freely available independent evaluations of their developments years after completion as a condition of planning permission. (This is not the same as being able to enforce it – there might not be those legal powers).

Anyway candidates, take your pick.

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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