Cambridge elections – why residents in affluent wards can support city-wide facilities beyond their areas

Not only from a social justice perspective, but also because their own communities benefit as well Sadly we do not have the governance structures or systems to make it happen. Yet.

“Cambridge has the potential to become a city greater than the sum of our parts” has been a theme of almost everything I’ve blogged about over the past decade. Although on the ballot paper for Queen Edith’s ward in Cambridge for the local elections in May 2023 (tomorrow at the time of typing!), the purpose of my campaign has always been about influencing others for the greater good of our city rather than ‘beating the opponents’. Hence why I recorded, edited, produced and published not only the videos of the Queen Edith’s hustings that I took part in, but produced separate videos for each of my fellow candidates of their own introduction speeches for them to use as they pleased. (See the article from the Queen Edith’s Community Forum here).

Cambridge Connect Light Rail – how Cambridge could benefit if new facilities were built out in Haverhill and Cambourne

I made a short video about the Cambridge Connect proposals below:

Above – see Cambridge Connect Light Rail here, and if you’d like to become an active supporter of the proposals, please join Rail Future East here.

Note trying to design a light rail system involves a different skills set to running a campaign. No point in trying to re-invent the wheel when someone has already got the campaigning infrastructure in place.

I also made a video about the Milton Road Garage site and why I want that site (currently with 100 homes allocated for it) to be turned into a new swimming pool for North Cambridge. You can watch the video here. This is an example of where Cambridge could build a new civic facility that serves both economically deprived communities who will have the new facility within walking & cycling distance, while at the same time serving residents along the guided busway out to St Ives – mindful that South Cambridgeshire District Council does not have its own municipal swimming pools. Hence their residents are dependent on either private pools or facilities run by other councils.

The proposal isn’t the only one I’ve had or blogged about – regular readers will be more than familiar with this! I’ve tried to condense as many onto a set of slides here which I’ve presented as discussion pieces for others to take on to talk about, improve and/or reject. (Or even for local political parties to take on for their own policy proposals!)

Cambridge’s civic infrastructure deficit

Dr Andy Williams told the Queen Edith’s Community Forum that Cambridge already had a significant infrastructure deficit before the GCP & CPCA came along, and that had not been dealt with before ministers signed off the creation of both the two organisations that I want abolished. Furthermore, the stresses on our environment mean that trying to cram everything into Cambridge’s 1935-era boundaries just feels wrong – especially when there are economically-deprived areas that could really do with the investment, need the jobs, have far cheaper land prices, and could support not only the facilities to serve their own local communities but also visitors from Cambridge and elsewhere. Hence why I think both Haverhill and Cambourne for starters could think about what sort of sports, arts, and leisure facilities could be built within walking distance of a light rail stop. I’ve also made a similar call regarding Ramsey and Chatteris during the construction of the proposed Chatteris Reservoir. Living and working in London taught me how to navigate my way to/from places (and which places to go to) by virtue of having an underground stop on the lines closest to where I lived. That’s how Cambridge, County, and sub-region need to think about any future improvements to our geographical area.

“Nothing about us without us”

One reason for overhauling local government in England (as called for by the Commons Public Administration Committee in October 2022) – now the subject of a petition for a Royal Commission on Governing England to be established for that purpose, is to provide the governance structures to hear the voices of people living outside Cambridge where some of the new facilities might be located. It’s not for me as a Cambridge resident to tell the people of Haverhill what will be built at the end of any proposed rail/light rail link to serve the needs of Cambridge. There are residents living in the villages between Cambridge-Haverhill who commute into Cambridge who might be more than happy to get involved in discussing what they get in return for the light rail in order to avoid becoming dormitory villages/towns. This is also why the debate about the structure of further education provision in and around Cambridge is ever so important – see the proposals from Hills Road Sixth Form College here.

Above Left – the abandoned proposals for a Greater Cambridge Unitary from 1969, and Above Right – the Tube-style map for Cambridge Connect.

For me, the 1969 map above could work where elected unitary councillors of a Greater Cambridge Unitary Council were automatically members of empowered town councils and parish councils that dealt with purely or mainly local issues and services. And those councillors should be paid the equivalent of a full time job commensurate with the responsibilities they take on and the skills needed to undertake them. (This also provides a training framework for existing and prospective candidates for election that can be part of a lifelong learning programme). Because city councillors at present don’t get much.

“Each [Cambridge City] Councillor will receive an annual allowance of £6093, and a one-off stationery allowance payment of £75 at the start of the year.”

Cambridge City Council allowances 2023/24
When you look at the additional allowances in the system, the Leader of Cambridge City Council receives significantly less than the average salary for the city.

The Leader’s allowance is just over £18,000 a year. Add to that the basic allowance of just over £6,000 and you have ***less than the median full time salary*** for both men and women for 2022.

Above – median annual pay for Cambridge over time. Source: Cambs Insight

Now consider that at council briefings for potential candidates we were informed that to do the role well, councillors needed to commit around 20 hours per week. This involves reading detailed meeting papers, attending council meetings, attending party meetings, attending constituency events and local community meetings. Now add the demands of being a council leader in a city like Cambridge. And finally ask why so few people are prepared to volunteer as candidates.

The responsibilities of being a committee chair, an executive councillor, or a council leader does not leave much space left for any employment mindful that the role of a councillor is still supposed to be a part-time voluntary role within our political culture. The reality is that it is anything but. The problem is our obsolete and outdated system still treats it in a manner that is completely inconsistent with the demands of modern day elected public office. And until our political parties – in particular those in national public office – accept this premise and choose to do something radical about it, Cambridge will remain a city with a global name that is governed like a large market town.

This must change.

You can help start that change by signing this petition on Parliament’s website (and sharing it) to get the ball rolling.

Food for thought?

If you are reading this before polling stations have closed (10pm 04 May 2023) there is still time for you to find your candidates via <<– feel free to share that link as well!

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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