Local Politics

Local politics is interesting.

In some places there are Unitary Authorities. This means that there are one set of councillors looking after most services. Unitary authorities need to be of certain size to work or things go wrong when there is insufficient critical mass. A realistic size for us would be a county wide unitary. Ideally that would include Peterborough.

This can be efficient but local needs are often missed. For example, at a recent meeting in Wisbech, local people set cycling as a low priority whereas in Cambridge it is a high priority. A compromise policy on cycling would probably not please either.

We have a two tier system in Cambridgeshire. That means we have a county council and 5 district councils ( Cambridge being one of them).

There is a huge difference in the type and amount of services delivered by different authorities. For example, a district council may have a budget of £10m to £50m whereas the county council has a budget, including schools, of £1.2 billion.

Districts look after amenities, housing (not all do because a lot were transferred to housing associations), planning and waste collection. They also manage benefit payments.

The county council looks after roads, infrastructure, schools, childrens social care, learning disability, public health, waste disposal, trading standards, health and well being, adult social care and much more.

When you stand to be a councillor you choose to become a district or a county councillor and if elected have a responsibility to deliver what that council is responsible for. Some individuals are elected as a county councillor as well as a district councillor but still must separate the two roles and declare any conflicts of interest between the roles.

District or City councillors have no more mandate to make decisions on County matters, ( as described above) than any other citizen.

Of course the districts and the City are part of the County geographically and therefor decisions on County matters will affect the people of the Districts and the City.

What is important is that the role of councillors is clearly defined and that their roles are strong. This is important because the legal authority must be clear and accountable and the responsibility for delivery must be aligned to the finances.

In Cambridge we seemed to have blurred this clarity of responsibility. It is important that local county councillors know and understand what they are responsible for and that they have influence over the decision makers.

I think, over time, city councillors have started to believe that they are unitary councillors and that they have control over everything. This is false and dangerous especially when it come to the issue of social care. I am clear. County councillors need to be county councillors and district and city councillors need to focus on being district and city councillors.

The debate about Unitaries may rise at some point in the future, who knows. But we must not lose focus on our current responsibilities until that day is thrust upon us.

Talk of party politics at this point misses the point. I sometimes here comments like ” the county council is making decisions about Cambridge without being represented in Cambridge”. This is a nonsense. There are some excellent county councillors in Cambridge, the fact that they are not from my Conservative group makes no difference.

My Cabinet make county wide decisions all the time which affect many divisions that are not Conservative held.

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