It is with great pride that I’m able to address members for the first time as Leader of the Council.
It’s a role I am honoured to take on.
And I am under no illusions about how challenging it will be.
Mr Chairman, it is true to say that despite all the help, advice and support you might receive, this is just the sort of role which nothing quite prepares you.
For instance, having reached the age of 51, and having become a grandfather in recent months, I was a little unprepared for suddenly being described as “The new kid on the block” in the local media.
But sometimes, a new approach, a fresh outlook and perspective, or just a different way of doing things is what is required.
These are unprecedented times, after all.
Which was a phrase used by my predecessor in leading the Council, Jill Tuck.
And it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to her sound judgment and sure touch as she the led the Council and the County over the past three years.
Her work culminated in this year’s Integrated Plan – the most difficult plan this Council has ever had to develop.
Jill, we are all grateful to you for that, and wish you well for the future.
How will we take the Council’s vision and its Integrated Plan forward?
I have already said that I want the County to be open for business.
To build on the brand Cambridgeshire has, as a local, regional, national and global hub for business innovation.
Our brand is inextricably linked to our Universities and the knowledge economy – which enabled Cambridgeshire to help lead the UK out of recession.
We need to make it our business to support business to grow that brand across the County. So that Fenland benefits as much as South Cambridgeshire or Huntingdonshire.
We made a good start in that direction. We have a LEP based on our County’s natural economic hubs in Cambridge and Peterborough. We are pushing for a Local Enterprise Zone to come here, to Cambridgeshire.
And we are finding new ways to solve local problems through involving business.
Take supporting local transport through the Cambridgeshire Future Transport scheme
Instead of empty buses trundling around the County at huge cost to the taxpayer through subsidies, we will be encouraging and investing in helping businesses, charities and social enterprises to step in and work with local residents and groups to find transport solutions which work for them.
Those solutions will be local.
And localism, Mr Chairman, will be at the heart of this Council’s policies and programmes.
I know how much more local solutions can add.
Ones which communities themselves have developed.
Much better than the council “doing to” or “doing for” people.
We will engage more with communities – work which has already started.
We will listen to communities and act on what they want as far as we are able – and if we cannot help, we’ll work with them to find the people who can.
We will also have to do more in our role as members.
Mr Chairman, if localism is to succeed in Cambridgeshire, that is one of the demands we have to meet.
Put simply, we have to up our game.
But – by the same token – so does the wider Council.
I want to see an enhanced role for members. Of all parties.
I want to see real community champions.
I want to see members making a real difference in their communities.
And I am sure we would all welcome.
So, in order to enable members to achieve their full potential to help communities to achieve theirs, we have to change things.
Too frequently it has seemed that our members are the last to know when policies or papers are formulated or events in their patch take place.
I know how this feels, having stepped up from a back bench role.
We will work to change this. We will revisit communications to Members on key patch issues.
We will also look to invest in members, making sure that colleagues have the skills they so communities benefit.
In short, we will be investing in Councillors so they can become true local leaders, for and of communities.
Developing local solutions.
We all know the potential is there.
Let get on and do it.
We all have a role to play in making this Council as effective as it can possibly be.
I have been thinking hard about some of the structures which we currently have around committees, scrutiny, and policy formulation.
I’ve concluded they are not fit for purpose.
Mt Chairman, We intend to rebalance arrangements for decision making.
So. Under these proposals, Policy Development Groups will go.
Instead, we will develop policy in more dynamic, task and finish style, through Advisory Groups.
Scrutiny Committees will become Overview and Scrutiny, and will be re-cast to mirror the new Cabinet portfolios. Council will determine Overview and Scrutiny Chairmanship and Vice Chairmanship.
Mr Chairman, we have all spent many hours in the Chamber debating items of business which have simply been provided for information.
In my view this reduces our capacity to be doing the work we were elected for by our communities.
So we intend to cut down on the amount of items provided for information, including the requirement for Council to receive reports on all matters discussed in Cabinet.
We intend to change arrangements for questions, both oral and written. And we will strengthen the administration’s hand on appointments to outside bodies and other groups.
These changes are about making sure that Democracy work. And works well.
It is about creating the right environment and structures for strong leadership.
I believe in strong leadership and I want each and every Member here to be a strong leader in their communities. It’s what we were elected for.
I want all Members to play their part in that.
Now we have to deliver.
And I am excited about our ability to do so.
We have a vision and priorities which are those of residents.
We have a very, very strong financial track record.
We have a talented team of officers at all levels from the frontline upwards who will deliver our vision and priorities under our leadership.
It will take energy.
It will take commitment.
It will mean taking difficult decisions.
It’s time to get started.