Next week will feel like an eternity in politics as Liz Truss goes

…as local councils across the country stand on the precipice of financial catastrophes.

You can read the motions tabled at Cambridge City Council earlier this evening here (Scroll down). As Cllr Sam Davies MBE (Ind – Queen Edith’s) said, they have some hard decisions ahead. Why those hard decisions seldom seem to hit the very wealthy – such as removing charitable status from private schools that charge very high fees and/or have very large financial endowments, or high end luxury sales taxes on items of conspicuous consumption (especially those with high carbon footprints) are seldom mentioned.

The Prime Minister resigns – and gets trolled by Aldi, Lidl, Jedward, and the Daily Star.

It was all downhill from there. While I knew my previous blogpost would become out of date sometime in the future, even I didn’t expect it to be out of date within 24 hours of posting it!

Behind the noise in Westminster are some very serious issues that are not getting the media coverage they deserve.

At a local level there is the big consultation on transport access to the centre of Cambridge. There are more than a few other consultations too – such as East West Rail. This morning I was at The Guildhall for a couple of hours listening to the challenges that some of Cambridge’s employers faced on all things skills, training, and the labour shortage.

Organised by Faye Holland of Cofinitive and the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, the main presentations were given by Danielle Grant and Nikki Scarr of AbCam – a Cambridge University spin-off that Dr David Cleevely CBE, of whom several of you will know, founded many years ago.

Having been out of the labour market for a decade because of illness (it has been just over 10 months since I was discharged from hospital following a heart attack, so I’m dependent on UC), I got the sense of how much things had changed in the high-skilled end in what Ms Grant and Ms Scarr said was an employees market. Accordingly, employers are having to change their values towards much more progressive ways of working in high skilled areas where there are skills shortages because people can very easily switch firms rather than stick around to resolve workplace issues.

The political party of business appointed a man whose values seem to be at odds with those wealth-creating employers in high-value firms that employ high-skilled workers

When I listened to the discussion about how firms needed to overhaul their corporate values, ensure they have got diversity and inclusion embedded in their culture and ways of working, and live their values – in particular on all things corporate social responsibility and responding to the climate emergency, I got the sense that the culture wars stoked by various politicians – including the now ex-Home Secretary, were completely contrary to the evolving business sectors in and around Cambridge. Which in part reflects why the Conservatives are electorally almost non-existent within the city of Cambridge and why they run the risk of being vanquished in the towns and villages outside of it. Remember just over 30 years ago the party still held the parliamentary seat in Cambridge. And only five years ago they had a big majority on South Cambridgeshire District Council. But two full council elections have seen them crushed by the Liberal Democrats – despite the controversy of things like the busways.

Above – from WikiP here – South Cambridgeshire District Council elections and how the full council elections of 2014, 2018, and 2022 have shown huge changes in the party political balance.

Delegates told me that public transport was their biggest issue

…and that when I showed them the Cambridge Connect Light Rail proposals, not one of them dissented. Furthermore, the message I got was that people from more affluent backgrounds would be much more willing to use light rail/trams than their cars, but would not use buses. Some of them also understood the decision that the Mayor Dr Nik Johnson took with his focus on buses (note the relief over a large number of saved services from Stagecoach’s cuts in Huntingdonshire) while expressing frustration at the Government’s inability to put in place long-term solutions because of the electoral cycle. Which is why proposals for a light rail need cross-party support.

Employers in sectors such as hospitality also told me that their staff relied on public transport to get them from outside of Cambridge into the city, and that the frequency and reliability of a light rail is something they would have far more faith in than with what they’ve experienced with bus services. Which for me explains why people are so sceptical about the promises being made by local politicians in the face of the behaviour by Stagecoach. Which is why I think the bus services in England should be nationalised and run for the benefit of the people, not profit. By locking in profits and also allowing private companies to decide routes, any positive externalities are lost. For example take the Cambridge Ice Arena on Newmarket Road by the Park and Ride. I’ve asked for the Citi-3 service that goes to Cherry Hinton to be extended from the Fulbourn Tesco through to Teversham and onto the Ice Rink.

Above – the red line bottom middle is the Citi-3. The proposals are as above. I’d keep the route as is (heading down Fulbourn Road below the Cherry Hinton Label) then heading north, stopping at the supermarket, then heading onto Tesco and the P&R. It may cost the authorities extra to run some loss-making services, but these could be offset by the health and leisure benefits of more people being able to access the ice rink from residential areas in South Cambridge, and also benefit the income streams of the ice rink. But those are benefits realised by the community that cannot be monetised by a profit-making company.

The Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce members need to get behind Cambridge Connect Light Rail – and encourage their staff to make the case to their MPs and councillors.

Above – from Connect Cambridge supported by Rail Future East

A reminder that Rail Future East are holding a public meeting on Saturday 3rd December 2022 in Cambridge at 14:00 at The Signal Box Community Centre, Glenalmond Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8DB. More details and background here.

It’s essential with a general election high in the public’s consciousness (and one that has to happen by January 2025) that employees of firms that would benefit from a light rail not only make the case for it to their councillors and MPs (see – you just need your postcode), but that also you suggest improvements and, for the firms that can afford it, offer to part-fund the essential early feasibility studies that the Greater Cambridge Partnership refused to fund in those early days, previous generations of officers and councillors preferring busways. All three political parties are responsible for that decision – the Conservatives controlling the GCP Board 2014-18, and an alliance of Labour and Liberal Democrats 2018-onwards. We are where we are, which is also why that cross-party support is essential, and it needs businesses and employers to make the case where us community activists have failed.

“Why not prioritise an East Cambridgeshire link?”

This was one of the conversations that came up. Last year I played with G-Maps to play with a concept of what an East Cambridgeshire light rail might look like – one that linked the villages between Cambridge, Newmarket (including the racecourse), and Ely to the effect of adding additional capacity and resilience to the transport networks when the heavy rail lines go down.

Above – an outline concept for an Ely-Newmarket-Cambridge branch of a light rail.

That concept also came from this iteration that I experimented with last year, bringing in additional stop at 1) Arbury (historically one of the most economically deprived wards in Cambridgeshire), 2) the Shire Hall / Castle Hill site which I think should become an historical heritage attraction, and then onwards to serve both the airport site, a Bottisham Park’n’Ride and freight exchange, and then onwards to Burwell, Newmarket, Soham, and Ely. There is nothing to stop people from making the case both to Rail Future (join here) and Cambridge Connect. Remember that from a business perspective, you cannot be passive supporters. Firms need to be active supporters and that means offering financial contributions to fund those essential feasibility studies and technical reports.

“What would a tram or light rail actually look like?”

There’s a magazine for that from the Light Rail Transit Association – formed before WWII.

Above left – the magazine you get when you join the LRTA, and Above right – the proposals for light railways for our cities published in 1944Towards an ideal transport, digitised here.

As I discussed with a couple of people today, my very long term vision (which I won’t live to see completed) isn’t an ‘all spokes lead to Cambridge’ model, but one that involves loops that connect disconnected market towns. Here’s another example – one that would extend the proposed Cambourne-Cambridge busway (but go underground close to the city) to St Neots and Wyboston Lakes.

Above – a South-West Cambridgeshire loop that incorporates the RSPB HQ at Sandy, as well as Wimpole Hall, and interchanges for both the GNER Railway and the A1.

The concept of the loops isn’t really new either. The concept of a city with a green belt surrounding it and linked to surrounding market towns comes from Thomas Sharp in 1931 (see his book digitised here with supporting text)

Above left – Thomas Sharp 1931; Above Centre – Nathaniel Lichfield 1965, and Above Right, the proposals from the Royal Commission on Local Government 1966-69 (the summary pamphlet is digitised here), detail for a Greater Cambridge Unitary Council – scrapped by Sir Edward Health’s Government, which gave us today’s boundaries.

Cambridge and Cambridgeshire cannot continue to be governed in broken structures

From Smarter Cambridge Transport, Minister approved this structure. Why, only they will know. With a general election coming up, there is a huge public and business interest to challenge the candidates and political parties on whether they have policies to overhaul this broken structure. Can they simplify it to make it more understandable and transparent so that everyone can identify where power resides locally?

Above – from Smarter Cambridge Transport

I think we should go further and look at a structure that breaks the barriers created by historical and administrative county boundaries so that towns close to Cambridge and also to Peterborough and Huntingdon that are over county borders are not frozen out as they currently are. But again that requires you to make the case to your elected representatives for something that is a significant improvement on what we currently have. And isn’t one that crystallises in-built political majorities but instead works for people, communities, and our environment as well as businesses and employers. Because the climate emergency and cost of living crises are not going to go away anytime soon.

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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