Holding local public service institutions to account – state run or privatised

How far has Cambridge progressed since I raised these issues nine years ago?

These are from the minutes of the annual council meeting of June 2014 that saw Cambridge Labour take political control of Cambridge City Council off of the Liberal Democrats. Scroll just over halfway down and you’ll get to the public questions which I seem to have asked. All I remember of that hot afternoon was that it took ***ages*** to get to the PQs. The meeting started at 11am and I don’t think they got to my Qs until about 3:30pm in the mid-afternoon!

I make no bones about it: it’s excruciating reading for me. Damn I must have been annoying for councillors and council officers. (“Hey, what’s changed?!?”)

In April 2012 Councillor Johnson promised to deliver a Cambridge Societies’ Fair on the condition that he was elected. As the new Executive Councillor responsible for delivering this can he now ask officers to:

  • begin the scoping and planning necessary to deliver this – in particular how to work best with students in further education.
  • give very serious consideration to a ‘community mapping exercise’ – to ensure no community groups are missed out.
  • work with Mr Carpen and colleagues working on a ‘community action summit’ this September at Anglia Ruskin University. 
Cambridge City Council minutes 14 June 2014

The result was a series of events titled Volunteer for Cambridge – see the opening speeches from the 2017 event here. Essentially the concept was to get as many voluntary groups into the Guildhall as possible and invite the city to come and meet them in the hope that people would sign up. While it had the beneficial impact of getting a critical mass of activists together and getting an understanding of just how much was going on in the sector across the city, it didn’t result in a significant increase in volunteers signing up, hence why (along with the pandemic) the annual event came to an end.

I’m still of the view that Cambridge needs an annual town version of a freshers’ fair that university students have: Bring as many groups and societies together and invite the city & beyond to meet them. Could it work on Parker’s Piece as part of a future annual summer gathering?

Failing area committees

I don’t know what the future is for these committees but something isn’t working. When there is a particularly controversial local issue (such as the controversy over The Flying Pig Pub and Pace Investments which a national Planning Inspector overruled Cambridge City Council’s refusal and enabled the latter to make a fortune – despite many a public meeting such as South Area Committee in July 2019 here) people will turn up. But after the first lockdown the meetings have moved online and are ***really poorly advertised***. It’s been something I’ve continually complained about for over a decade but have gotten nowhere.

My other complaint was that other public sector institutions were simply ignoring correspondence from local council area committees when they were written to in official capacities. I made the point about local public service providers not talking to each other at the Queen Edith’s Hustings on 25 April 2023 – from 16m49s here.

With Parliament calling for local government and the governance of England to be overhauled – something that this petition is supporting (but won’t get off the ground without much wider support from established campaign groups and parties due to the niche nature of the subject), I come back to my point about Parliament needing to empower local councils to gain much stronger scrutiny powers – including powers to summon and cross-examine local public service providers irrespective of which section of the economy they are from. (ie state, private, or not-for-profit/charity).

Anyway, now that the councillors have been elected, you can start emailing them with your local issues! See https://www.writetothem.com/, type in your postcode, and start the conversations! You can’t start them with me because I didn’t get elected! (I am asking however two of our local community forums to consider some democracy & citizenship workshops – see my previous blogpost here)

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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