Addressing Fenland District Council

This afternoon it was my pleasure to address Fenland District Council. Mark Lloyd and I had agreed to update FDC on what was happening at the county and to take questions. It was a great opportunity which was well received. The text of my intended speech is detailed below although I did venture off piste on a regular basIs during the delivery 🙂

Thank you for welcoming us here and allowing us to speak to you today.

Unlike some of my Cambridge city colleagues I’m a frequent visitor to Fenland and the many services and projects we provide.

And since my first week as Leader, when I visited the Waterlees in Wisbech, I have been impressed with the spirit of local communities and the hard work carried out by Fenland councilors who all want the best for their area.

In fact your own Leader Alan Melton will always take his opportunity at Full Council to campaign for Chatteris and Fenland – despite the groans from the opposition bench.

Equally Councillor Martin Curtis is quick to make sure his Cabinet colleagues are well aware of the needs and benefits of Whittlesey.

Wrongly – there is a feeling in some more southerly and Cambridge based parts of the County that Fenland is different to the rest of Cambridgeshire – an us and them attitude.

Like the most recent Daily Mail story on Wisbech these are the opinions of the ill informed who I fear have never got farther than Ely.

Let me make this clear, this is not a view I share. Quite the opposite. The County Council must do all it can to bring prosperity to all its residents and where we have deprivation we target it.

Our priorities are:
• Developing the local economy for the benefit of all
• Supporting and protecting vulnerable people
• Helping people live healthy and independent lives

Let me just stress something all of these have in common – they apply equally to all our communities.

From the moment any resident in Cambridgeshire steps out of their door and onto the street they are using a County Council service.

Therefore I and my cabinet want to make sure our services are the same high quality no matter where you live.

Including schools, we have a budget of £848 million. The majority, around £189 million is spent on Adult Care Services. £127 million on Children’s Services, £78 million on Environment Services. While £51 million is spent on Corporate/ shared services and £34 million on Financing costs.

Let me put that in the context of what our communities see.

All of us here used our roads, paths and maybe even our rights of way to get here today and I am sure many have children or grandchildren at local schools. You may have started the spring cleaning early and used our recycling centres at the weekend or have family or friends needing the support of our adult social care services. You may have even travelled past the farms that we own and rent to tenant farmers.

I have travelled to many of the services you don’t always see for yourself in Fenland. For example I have spoken to local travellers at the launch of the March Community Center who have used our services to gain qualifications and to pass on their knowledge. I have spoken to our looked after children whose parent is now the County Council. Officers from our mental health teams have told me about the challenges they face.

That is why our latest budget is about investment. It is investing in frontline services, investing in prevention and investing in growing enterprise and business.

Following a public consultation we took a tough decision to raise Council Tax. We listened to our communities who wanted frontline services protected. But also we took a stand for the most vulnerable in our community so we could look them in the eye and tell them we will make sure the County Council will be there for them when they most need us.

I and my cabinet want a can-do Council. As politicians we must take a lead for our communities. Therefore, we have started a culture change in the County Council where we have to be more flexible about the way we do things. We all know there is no money and so we have to look for more inventive ways to deliver the services our communities and economy need. That is why I am really glad to see the close working we have with Fenland District Council and I hope to see more.

We have been investing heavily in Fenland.

When the rest of the country was losing millions of pounds in funding for schools we argued with Government and secured unprecedented investment from the Building Schools for the Future project. I was really pleased to drive past the Neale-Wade Community College and see the massive improvements going on. This investment is being repeated in Wisbech, Whittlesey and Chatteris providing modern facilities for all ages to use, not just our children.

I am very pleased to have worked with Alan on securing funding for the College of West Anglia. This will see a £13.5 million investment in a new engineering block and office accommodation to bring together council services.

This is much more than about bricks and mortar. The new engineering block represents providing skills and opportunity for our youth. It represents jobs and business opportunities. More importantly it represents economic prosperity and improvements to the quality of life. The new office block is putting Council services together on a suitable site where they can be better accessed by families. Spreading our services in various buildings might have served the Council before but not our communities.

It’s no good spending millions of pounds on top quality services if no one uses them. If you want people to benefit from our services, or even try ones they had not thought about, then we must put them in one place where our residents will use them.

We want to encourage business. For much too long people only think of Cambridge when it comes to growing enterprise.

That is why, together with yourselves and other authorities we are investing £20 million in Superfast broadband. This money will secure tens of millions of additional funding to roll it out across Cambridgeshire with the focus on current “not spots” which Fenland has many of.

We have negotiated with Government to bring forward plans for the Cambridge Science Park Station in Cambridge. As long as our business case continues to stack up the Minister has agreed to put in the rail franchise which will then pay us back. We know that 80 per cent of the traffic coming into this area comes from the North of the County. By prudentially borrowing the money and building this station now we can help boost the economy and help people from Fenland and East Cambridgeshire as we open up transport links.

We are looking to borrow millions of pounds to bring forward the new Ely link road which would by-pass the congested station area. Alan Melton spoke eloquently at Full Council on how this would not only help Ely but be a gateway for Fenland Businesses as well.

We also want to see the A47 improved as well as the A605.

We have worked alongside Fenland on the multi million pound flood defences in Wisbech and the installation of drainage systems in the deprived north ward of Wisbech. This is all from the extra £90 million of investment we are putting into Highways.

Not to mention the multi-million investment in the regeneration of the Wisbech port area, including the Boathouse.

After initial problems the playground at Waterlees is a huge success.

We already have a good working relationship with Fenland District Council but we all know we can always do more. We want to help grow prosperity in the area and continue the great work we have already started.

There are some great health pressures in Cambridgeshire, especially with an ageing population that is living longer. Public Health responsibilities are being transferred to local councils and we want to build a model that recognises the vast contributions Fenland District Council has made to public health improvements.

Our watchword is prevention – where we keep residents from needing the critical and expensive support, enabling them to live longer and fuller lives. Leisure and Community Centres, such as those run by the District Council and being built in Chatteris can play a major role in this.

Fenland is a diverse area with many challenges and it would be wrong to say there is a one shape fits all solution. It is through you and our local members that we best understand what is needed at a local level.

That is one of the reasons I have moved our Cabinet meeting to Wisbech on March 6. Not only can local residents see what the County Council does but we will have a day when Cabinet members will see what we are achieving and what we can do better by talking to those either delivering the services or using them.

There is great scope for us to share services and buildings in community hubs to make it easier for our residents and cheaper for our tax payers.

Already Cambridgeshire County Council is making millions of savings in the LGSS shared services agreement with have with Northamptonshire County Council. Norwich City Council is joining us and we are in talks with other organizations. The benefits of this wholly public service shared service arrangement are great and I would urge you to take a serious look at how it might work for Fenland.

We have much to work on together. I know Fenland communities are passionate about their area and rightly so. We have much to celebrate in Fenland and I want to make sure we promote this.

I am sure we will be working closely to make sure our communities benefit from the Jubilee and Olympics celebrations. We are already working on ways of making sure residents can enjoy the Jubilee without the normal Council red tape authorities are so good at producing as well as benefit from the Olympic legacy.

Perhaps there is something of the Olympic spirit that we can all learn from. That we all have the same goal – to provide a gold medal service for our communities –and by working as a team we can achieve this rather than individuals.

We are investing millions of pounds into Fenland but we can always do more. My goal is to help grow prosperity, business and top quality services in Fenland. I think that is a vision we all share and I hope we can achieve it together.

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