Wisbech Cabinet day – a personal view

Much has been reported, talked about and tweeted about Cabinet being held in Wisbech. It is rare for such an event to have attracted such universal praise.

I thought I might reflect on the day from a personal perspective, warts and all.

The day began at 0600 with my alarm going off. The great thing about my Iphone is that the alarm can be personalised which is fun. On this occasion I woke up to Winston Churchill “fight them on the beaches speech” which sort of felt appropriate. Fighting for the people of Wisbech and Cambridgeshire as a whole is something that I am getting used to in the role of Leader.

I enjoyed the drive to Wisbech and arrived on the dot of 0800 at the same time as Mac, my deputy, and John Powley, the Chairman of the Council. The sense of expectation was palpable.

I had been promised bacon rolls for breakfast so imaging my disappointment when I caught sight of pastries and fruit and no bacon !!! Worse no coffee. But of course I had arrived early and both coffee and the bacon rolls soon materialised. This was to be the last meal I was able to spend more than 5 minutes over. Thanks to John Elworthy.

The breakfast meeting was a great ice breaker. Mind you, speaking after John Elworthy (Archent Newspaper Editor) and then Alan Melton ( FDC Leader) is always a challenge. Neither are shy or retiring. Today was no exception. John was bubbling with excitement and Alan as passionate about Fenland as ever. I wanted to give my commitment to Wisbech and Fenland as a whole and to try and get over my own brand of common sense and business led focus to running not just the County Council but also to providing civic leadership.

The Boathouse facilities are excellent. Cabinet kicked off at 1000 in a room much larger than our normal cabinet room. I was aware that being heard might be a problem, at the back of the room, so made a mental note to project my voice more than normal. Starting to lose my voice at the end of the day reminded me that microphones next time would be helpful.

We had a good debate on a range of subjects in front of a larger number of the public than usual and not just the usual smattering of Lib Dems. Talking of the Lib Dems, I was pleased to see a few of them had made it to Wisbech. It unusual to see them far from a city.

I was surprised how poor the Lib Dem contribution was. When they spoke they were full of errors both of fact and content. They also seem to be stuck firmly in negative mode, as usual. Shame on such a positive day.

Susan Van De Ven who speaks on transport for the Lib Dems seemed on particularly bad form. Having tried to make a point by using public transport to attend the Cabinet she claimed to have spoken to people on the bus who had said they wanted to keep their bus service, no shocks there. Unfortunately for Susan at the time she was travelling the service is not subsidised so all she managed to do was to unnecessarily alarm passengers and made herself look daft in front of Cabinet. To. Be clear, we do not run bus services we just subsidise about 20% of the commercial services.

By contrast, the single Labour Councillor Tariq Sadiq outperformed, as usual. Our politics might be different but Tariq provided far more real constructive opposition than most of the Lib Dems put together. I suspect that is because conviction wins over froth every time.

After Cabinet I opened up a session for Q and A with the public. This has not been done before and was well received. I had no idea what was coming so had to be on my toes. During Cabinet Mark Lloyd, my Chief Exec, had whispered that local taxis drivers wanted to come and protest and was I ok with this, which I was. After all we had come to listen. However, all was not as it seems. Taxis ranks are not a County Council function so I guess they were at the wrong Council meeting.

It turns out the taxis spokesman was a thinly disguised Lib Dem District Councillor, who is also a taxi driver and knew exactly what he was doing which was to attempt to embarrass the District Council in front of us. Not great really and because I had clocked this Lib Dem ploy he looked a bit daft. It seems the Lib Dems were not having a great day.

Some great questions followed from members of the public. I was then whisked off for a TV interview before nipping over to the Oasis Center for lunch. I had 8 mins to eat mine before chairing a meeting with civic leaders. This was brilliant but not long enough ( lunch and the meeting). We had one hour and I suspect we could have filled four. Some great stuff came out which I am sure we would not have picked up in Shire Hall. It was a challenge to keep the great and the good on topic and to the time allowed. I found myself in the unusual position of protecting the local police inspector during a robust discussion around anti social behaviours.

And then onwards to visit the College Of West Anglia before off on a walk about around Wisbech. We then headed off to the Castle at 1700 for a wash up with Cabinet and officers. All Cabinet members had visited different places in Wisbech.

I confess to feeling tired by this point. Three speeches, chairing a Q and A session, chairing the civic leaders discussion, a visit to COWA, a walk around Wisbech and then chairing a wash up and all largely unscripted was a challenge but great fun.

The wash up was very positive. Lots had been learnt by Cabinet, officers were tasked with following up on lots of issues and I was able to offer my thanks to all those who had made the day possible. Everyone agreed momentum had been created and that a difference could be made.

Now we must deliver.

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