Cambridge Union Debate

Last week it was my pleasure to speak at a debate at the Cambridge Union. You can feel the history in the chamber and a sense of those that have spoken before.

I had been asked to speak against the motion “Is greed destroying Cambridge”. I volunteered for the third slot on our side which allowed me to rebut the other sides arguments and launch the final attack before the vote.

It was great fun and much more challenging than the usual weak debate I have to put up with from the Lib Dems in the Council Chamber. As usual I went off my script after about 1 minute but managed to get many of the points across that I wanted. I was also able to pull a few tails.

Is Greed Destroying Cambridge?

I am speaking as a local politician, not as the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. You will find no policy made on the hoof here tonight.

My prepared speech but not necessarily what I said.

“Success is a Cambridge characteristic we should celebrate and encourage.

Success is what defines Cambridge– the names of Turing, Crick & Watson, and more recently perhaps Lynch, Hauser and Broers, these are synonymous with world-changing innovation, and they are synonymous withCambridge. Why wouldn’t we celebrate that?

What is special aboutCambridge’s success is that here we are able to marry academic excellence with exceptional performance in industry and business. ARM and Autonomy are two of our most recent success stories; these are world-leading companies here on our doorstep. Again, why would we not celebrate that with the jobs and prosperity they bring to us?

We have debated what Cambridge looks like, the built environment of our City. Cambridge is a beautiful city, a vibrant city, a mix of new and old; you only have to take our setting today as evidence of that. We are adjacent to the second oldest building inCambridge– theRound Church, in one of the busiest hubs of the city, and it looks and feels spectacular. Another success we should celebrate. Where is the real evidence of a city being destroyed?

Yes, we have needed to build to helpCambridgegrow and succeed. If we didn’t provide new houses and new communities then businesses would go elsewhere. Our knowledge economy is built on people, and they need places to live, but of course not necessarily in the centre of Cambridge. If we don’t go forwards we go backwards. The newest parts of Cambridgehave helped us grow, and helped us to retain the glory that has been handed to us by history. I believe we have achieved that balance well, and will continue to do so.

We should not forfeit Cambridge’s future success because of Luddites

I am shocked at those on the other side who seem to want to stop us from being successful in the future. From what I have heard they would rather we hang on to some misguided perception of what Cambridge was, ignoring the reality of today, and resisting change. I can’t help but be reminded of smashed looms a couple of centuries ago.

The world is a fast-moving place and we have to keep pace. If we don’t do the things that are necessary to grow Cambridge, including building necessary houses and, getting the right infrastructure, then we will be overtaken. Cambridge, perhaps more so than most places in theUK, is operating in a fiercely competitive environment, both nationally and internationally. Without growth, it puts at risk the fantastic city of ours as one of the top innovation centres in the world. This would be a disaster for the people of Cambridge, of Cambridgeshire, and the country as a whole, as the Cambridge brand is one of the few in the UK that has genuine international standing, and if we allow that to fade we would be doing harm to the wider national interest – not something I want to happen on my watch.
That is why the County Council, despite the difficult position in relation to the public finances, is investing for future success for Cambridge and Cambridgeshire. Last year, I signalled over £200m of additional capital investment to help deliver successful growth inCambridge and across Cambridgeshire. This includes £30m for a new Science Park Station. £25m of investment in the new town of Northstowe, which will do much to help address the housing shortages blighting our area. £30m to resolve the road/rail conflicts at Ely. And much more. And this builds on the investment already made in new transport infrastructure such as the magnificent guided busway, £90m additional road spend and of course superfast broadband – making the concept of the Cambridge city-region into a reality, rather than a planning label. And I am confident too that we may finally be nudging Government towards addressing the long term problems on the A14 – which in its current form is probably the biggest constraint to future economic success of the Cambridge city-region.

The other side would have us believe that it is a greedy few who are benefiting from the growth and economic success we have seen in Cambridge. This is simply not true.

Cambridge is one of the fastest growing cities in theUK– but it has managed that growth effectively – growth has enhanced rather than reduced the quality of life in the city, and this is borne out by the data.

The Centre for Cities report Cities Outlook 2012 put Cambridge at the top of a range of indicators.

Cambridge has the lowest unemployment rates of any city in the UK. It has the 2nd highest skilled workforce in theUK. It has the lowest rates of youth unemployment. And the lowest percentage of the working age population with no qualifications of any city in theUK – 3.1%. The next lowest is Worthing with 6.2%.

Cambridge also has the lowest inequality of employment levels of any UKcity. In Cambridge the difference between Job Seekers Allowance rates across areas of the City is 5.4%, in Rochdale(the most unequal) it is 29.2%. Is this a city on the wane? Not at all!

Cambridge is full of ambition, energy and a passion for the future – the opposition want to substitute this for doom, gloom and fear

It is not just about the evidence ofCambridge’s success, which we have outlined in abundance this evening. What concerns me most about what I have heard from the other side is the negativity of their position. The damp blanket of socialism, the indecision and ineptitude of high minded liberalism.

Greed has not destroyedCambridge; you have heard what an ill-conceived myth that is. The evidence is before us – the pursuit of profit – within a democratic society that puts sensible controls in place – has generated huge benefits for the city and its residents. We have worked together across the boundaries of the public, private, community and academic sectors to achieve this. But I do worry that the doom, gloom and fear the other side are preaching is more likely to harm the city than “greed” would ever do.

I want Cambridgeto be a place that continues to attract go-getters. People with energy and ambition, people that want to change the world. We live in a truly great and globally important city, and I believe that is because of the people that have lived here before us – exceptional people.

If we allow the naysayers and the pessimists to prevail in Cambridge then we are allowing success to slip through our fingers. Well, I will not let those limp hands anywhere near control of Cambridge. I say we cast them aside and with strength and conviction we grasp the future of this amazing place with both hands. To continue to succeed we need to be forward-looking, we need to be open to change, up for growth, and we need to be excited by the opportunities ahead of us.

I urge you all to resist this motion.

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