Speedwatch in Queen Edith’s Way

SpeedWatch 2015-02-13 QEWSpeeding is a frequent cause of complaint to councillors – and most people are saying, ’Slow down!’  Fast traffic is intimidating, putting people off walking and cycling, or letting their children do so. The result: more motor traffic. Speed causes accidents – police say it is the cause of about a third of traffic collisions – at worst, it results in injury or death.

Cambridge is changing the speed limit in residential roads, and the 20mph signs should be coming to Queen Edith’s next – but as we all know, some motorists flout speed limits, either through carelessness; or worse, because they don‘t care.

Police do their best to enforce speed limits, and tackling anti-social driving is a priority in this area; but they cannot be everywhere at once. So how about some community action?

SPEEDWATCH enables volunteers to address speed concerns in their own neighbourhoods. Teams of three people set up roadside speed monitors. When a vehicle passes, the monitor flashes up the speed the driver is doing. Volunteers clock vehicles that are over the limit, and police then follow up with letters of advice.

2016-02-15 13_53_29-Cambridgeshire Maps

Accidents in Queen Edith’s

Jennifer Page-Croft of Wulfstan Way and I met PCSOs Michaela Bright and Decca Riondino for a training session – you can see us here in our yellow Speedwatch tabards. We chose Queen Edith’s Way to practise in, as it’s a road that generates a lot of complaints.

The officers showed us how to set up the signs and speed monitoring device, and how to record the cars. You record the details of the cars exceeding the limit: speed and time, vehicle colour and – slightly harder for me – the make and model.

If you’re one of the people anxious or annoyed about speeding in the area, can I invite you to get involved? We need some more people in the south of Cambridge to make this work.

The police have another training session next Tuesday evening at Parkside Police Station. I’m told there are even a couple of parking spaces (priority for people with disabilities).
Tuesday 23rd February 6.30-8.00pm
If you’d like to attend, email [email protected]

Cross city cycling*

The Greater Cambridge City Deal has launched a consultation on five schemes designed to improve safety for people walking or cycling across Cambridge.

Accident clustersThe one that is of greatest relevance to us in Queen Edith’s focuses on the Long Road-Queen Edith’s Way- Hills Road junction, a key route for schools, sixth form colleges and Addenbrooke’s Hospital. It’s a difficult junction to negotiate by bike or on foot, with fast-moving traffic coming from all directions and it’s a known accident cluster, as shown on the County Council’s map. I have lost count of the times people have said the latest new cycle lane being built on Hills Road should have started at this junction, rather than just after it.

It’s an expensive project, and the money on the table is from the City Deal, a government-funded infrastructure programme granted by Nick Clegg when Deputy Prime Minister during the coalition government.

Exhibitions

There is a programme of exhibitions showing the proposals, and two are in our area: Addenbrooke’s on 18th January, and St John’s Church on 3rd February. Alternatively, you can see plans and comment on line, on the City Deal website. The consultation is open until 15th February.

* Not, as it looks, a description of the city or the cyclists – better with a hyphen, I think!

Should streetlights be switched off? and other hard questions

The County Council is at last consulting on its plan to switch off streetlights between midnight and 6am. Please take part in the Cambridgeshire Streetlight Consultation, running till 11th December.

This cut has generated a lot of concern especially in areas where people are around in the small hours, or the early morning. But it is just one of many proposed cuts that leave a bad taste in the mouth – other economies are to end mobile library services, stop community transport and school buses, slash the budget for roads maintenance, and reduce the funding for children’s centres and adult social care.

The cut is in response to the deep budget deficit that the County Council is grappling with this year, thanks to a poisonous cocktail of the government withdrawing funding and the population soaring.  To see the streetlighting proposals in context, you may wish to look at the wider budget consultation, Cambridgeshire’s £100 million budget challenge.

CLEC Inquiry: Koragate and what went so wrong

The County Council is conducting an inquiry into procedural mistakes made with the Cambridge Library Enterprise Centre decision (now rescinded).

The Chair of the Council’s Audit & Accounts Committee, Cllr Mike Shellens, has called for submissions from the public as well as from councillors. If you would like to contribute, please email your submission to [email protected] The deadline has been set as 17th August but it is hoped this will be extended, given the holiday period. The deadline is 24th August. For full details of how to participate, see the County Council’s website.

Here is my submission:

Cambridge Library Enterprise Centre

Introduction
I write as a member of the Highways & Community Infrastructure (HCI) Committee. Since May 2015 I have been the Liberal Democrat spokes on that committee, which has responsibility for the Library Service amongst other functions. I was previously spokesperson for libraries in 2013-14 when libraries came under the Resources portfolio.

Background
Some time in 2013 Kora-Regus approached Cambridgeshire County Council with a proposal to create an enterprise centre on the third floor of Cambridge Central Library. Despite being the spokes for most of 2013, I was unaware of the CLEC proposal until it was presented to us in our agenda pack for the HCI meeting of 17th March 2015. This was about a week before the committee meeting at which we were being asked to take a decision. Cllr Susan van de Ven, our spokes at the time, told us that she had only been made aware of the proposal late February 2015 at a spokes meeting. The item had been marked confidential.

Given that officers had been in discussion with Kora since 2013, it is inexcusable that this was kept secret from most members for such a long time, not only because of the lack of transparency but also because we did not have enough information to make a decision. I also question why our spokes was asked to keep the matter secret: how could she possibly have briefed or taken soundings from our group?

I was inclined not to support the proposals for the following reasons:
we had little background on Kora and no evidence of its effectiveness
the case for closing the library café was weak
there had been a complete lack of consultation with library users or the general public

I shared my concerns with Lib Dem colleagues Barbara Ashwood and Susan van de Ven when we met to discuss this and other agenda items – our usual practice before a committee meeting. We agreed on questions which we would put to officers before the meeting, and that at the meeting we would ask to defer the proposal until we had a presentation by Kora and public consultation.

On March 17th , our amendment requesting consultation and working up of alternative options was lost and the CLEC proposals were passed, with 12 members for and 1 against (myself). Three other members (Ashwood, van de Ven and Kavanagh) abstained.

We requested a decision review by General Purposes Committee. That committee’s 14th April meeting was attended by several members of the public and by Julian Huppert MP, whose support we had sought. A 3,000 signature petition against the plans was presented by Sara Payne. GPC referred the item back to HCI for reconsideration following consultation and more information from officers.

Following the meeting, officers arranged a presentation for councillors by Kora’s Global MD Roger Perrin, and a public meeting on the CLEC on 6th May. The councillor presentation did nothing to allay my doubts about Kora’s competence: I asked Mr Perrin what research he had done into his potential client base in Cambridge and what evidence he had of demand for additional enterprise centre services. He told me that no research had been carried out.

At the end of May, a FoI request response exposed the fact that officers had held no fewer than 37 meetings with Kora. The County responded very late, just a few days before the 2nd June HCI meeting at which the proposals were reconsidered. The series of meetings was referred to during the debate by the public speakers as well as by councillors. Despite robust and well argued opposition from councillors plus the public, the proposal went through again, although this time the vote was close: 7-6 in favour.

We called the decision in again, this time to Full Council. On 5th June, there was another important revelation: a local blogger, Phil Rodgers, published his findings that Roger Perrin, who styles himself ‘Global Managing Director’ of Kora, was disqualified from being a director in the UK and had already had one business fail, leaving over £1.5 million of debt.

This resulted in the proposals being suspended and in the chair of HCI calling a special meeting to review the decision in the light of the new information. The committee met again on 26th June and rescinded the decision. This time the vote was unanimous, apart from the Labour committee member, who questioned whether the committee retained powers to revoke the decision, given that there had been a Full Council call-in. (This is a moot point and should be clarified in our constitution.)

Political and democratic context
This proposal has attracted an extraordinary level of public engagement:
three demonstrations against the proposals outside Shire Hall and Central Library
a 38 Degrees petition with nearly 4,000 signatures
campaign group with over 200 supporters on Facebook as well as petition signatories
Freedom of Information requests
research into Kora
big attendances at council meetings
public speakers
an unprecedented number of correspondence with councillors – email, phone calls and letters
high volume of comments, both in the public consultation and in the library comments book

Despite well researched and presented arguments, opposition to the proposals was on the whole politely ignored by the Conservative members of the committee.

What went wrong?
Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of giving up library space to create an enterprise centre, there were several flaws in process:

Lack of competition
Officers pursued an unsolicited proposal from an unknown company without offering the opportunity to other bidders.

Secrecy
A senior officer signed a confidentiality agreement, which compromised her.
The CLEC proposals and negotiations were not divulged to councillors until as late as possible, despite meetings having been taking place since December 2013.
There had been no consultation whatsoever with the public or even with library users.
The only justification for the suppression of information was that the company had requested confidentiality. The secrecy clearly advantaged Kora as it kept the field clear for them, but the officers should not have agreed to withold information from council members.

Poor reporting
Councillors were expected to take a decision on inadequate facts – there was some sketchy information on Kora, the preferred partner but hardly any on the two alternative options. The financial projections were dubious and, as my colleague Cllr Jenkins showed at the third meeting, did not compare like with like when assessing Kora alongside the in-house options; they also failed to take into account existing income from room lettings. Effectively, we as councillors were not equipped to do our job.

Standards
Kora-Regus has a poor reputation amongst existing users and avoids paying tax in the UK. Although they act within the law, it is questionable whether an organization that avoids paying its taxes is an appropriate partner for a local authority.

Lack of due diligence
The Council should have checked the credentials of Kora and the chief negotiator more thoroughly. Given that it was prepared to commit public money to reconfiguring the library in preparation for the CLEC, the Council should also have researched the viability of the project, or required evidence from the partner company of unmet demand for enterprise centre services and that the projected income would materialize.

Amanda Taylor
Cambridge
August 2015

TIMELINE (including links to minutes and web posts.)

2013
December CCC holds first meeting with Kora

2015
Late February Party spokespeople briefed
w/b 9th March HCI members presented with report for decision on 17th March
17th March HCI committee CLEC #1. Passed 12-1.
14th April General Purposes Committee. 38 Degrees petition presented. CLEC decision reviewed.
28th April Kora presentation to councillors at Shire Hall
6th May Public meeting on CLEC at Central Library
29th May FoI request response reveals 37 private meetings between Kora and CCC
2nd June HCI committee CLEC #2. Passed 7-6.
5th June CLEC suspended after revelations Roger Perrin was serving a disqualification
26th June Special HCI meeting CLEC #3. Rescinded 12-1.

Lib Dems demand inquiry on Koragate – but Labour back Tories

Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats yesterday called for full independent scrutiny of the failed deal with Kora to run part of Cambridge Central Library.

In a full debate at Shire Hall yesterday, we insisted that an independent review is the only way to regain public trust after the disaster of the Regus-Kora misadventure, when the County was on the verge of signing a contract with a disqualified company director.

Disappointingly, Cambridge’s Labour councillors voted with UKIP and the Conservatives for an “in house” investigation.

Lib Dem Cllr Barbara Ashwood led our call for ain independent review into the handling of the library enterprise centre.

“We believe that multiple failings in the course of this process, including a large number of secret meetings between Kora and council officers have brought this council into disrepute,” she said.

“Only a fully independent review of the whole process, outside of the council itself, will truly allow the public to trust that the matter has been dealt with properly.”

I seconded the amendment, saying: “The Tories should not pretend that they dropped the project because of lack of public support. They were happy enough to vote it through in the face of a 4,000 signature petition and an overwhelming number of objections. It was only put on hold when a member of the public discovered that the director of the company was serving a disqualification – a fact that had eluded the council despite 37 meetings.

“The fact is the deal was only stopped when independent blogger Phil Rodgers unearthed that Kora’s lead negotiator was banned from being a company director.

“The reason we are having this debate today is that the processes and procedures of this council have been found wanting. We need an independent inquiry to restore the trust of the public, not the council investigating itself.”

Storms close local school

Reception closed next week

Reception closed next week

Last night’s surprise thunderstorms have caused flooding at a number of local schools, including Morley Memorial in Queen Edith’s, where some classrooms have been left without power and with wrecked flooring.

The headteacher, Ms Brown, has written to parents saying,

‘Unfortunately our school has suffered significant flood damage as a result of last night’s storms. We have lost the use of all Reception and year 1 classrooms and also a Year 3 classroom as well as the community room.’

Staff worked through the night to contain the damage and arrange for something close to normal service. Nevertheless, Reception children have had to stay at home today, and will be unable to attend school next week.

Seven other Cambridgeshire schools have been affected. Any further closures will be posted on the County Council website

“Following the rainstorms that hit Cambridgeshire yesterday evening a number of schools and early years settings, mainly in the Cambridge area have been affected by flooding. Cambridgeshire County Council has been liaising with schools to make sure any repairs are carried out as soon as possible. A small number of schools may have to close or partially close but they will stay open if at all possible. Schools and early years facilities will contact parents if they are closing early or if there is any change to their normal routine. The County Council will also be posting any school closures or partial closures on their website: www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/closures.

The Met Office had issued no Flood Guidance Statement or Adverse weather warnings to Emergency Responders, so the County was not expecting the thunderstorms. Nevertheless, school closures are hugely regrettable, as although the children will be happy enough to start their holidays early, many working parents will be caught out, with the consequent knock-on effect on the services where they work. Days off school for children also mean days off for nurses, doctors, transport workers – and other teachers.

It will be interesting to know what contingency plans the County has for securing alternative teaching accommodation when the need arises.

Kora — kaput

rescind On Friday, Cambridgeshire County Council‘s Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee rescinded its earlier decisions to allow Kora-Regus to set up an Enterprise Centre in Cambridge Central Library.

Conservatives on the County Council, who had previously voted through the proposal en bloc (first in March and again in June), this time voted to rescind the decision and for council officers to identify alternatives.

Councillors from the Liberal Democrat, Labour, Independent and UKIP groups had opposed the Kora plan on the grounds of inadequate evidence as well as its impact on the library service. We were especially angry about the clandestine way in which the Kora project was pursued by officers. An Freedom of Information request by Paul Lythoge revealed that there had been 37 secret meetings between the council officers and Kora. A confidentially agreement had effectively suppressed information from members of the Council charged with responsibility for the library service.

The decision was first taken in March. I opposed it, but the Tories and the UKIP vice-chair voted it through. I was successful in leading a call-in resulting in the decision being reconsidered on 2nd June. This time I was not the only councillor to vote against as the vote was 6-7; again, the BluKip band rubberstamped the officers’ proposals.

It was only when the Kora MD was exposed as being in the middle of a disqualification by the investigative local blogger Phil Rodgers that the Tories withdrew their support.

Tory Cllr Steve Crisell described himself as “embarrassed, disappointed and angry” and vowed to investigate individuals concerned, but acknowledged the “goodwill and ideas” of the library campaigners.

The committee passed a motion to rescind its previous decisions and also:

“To request the Executive Director of ETE to identify alternative options for increasing income at Cambridge Central Library by working with Central Library staff, an elected members group and library users to explore all options which may include developing a cultural and educational centre for Cambridge and the County”.

Cambridge Central Library to close café and turn third floor over to ‘enterprise centre’

Rural Tory and UKIP county councillors have today voted to convert the top floor of Cambridge Central Library into an enterprise centre run by an outside company (KORA), and to close the café.

Cllr Barbara Ashwood (Lib Dem) opened the debate by saying that while she is generally very supportive of the library service, she could not support this because of the paucity of background information. The report left her none the wiser, and she was not sure what was really meant by entrepreneurs’ lounge, international membership and the KORA Club. More information was needed on KORA and how the services would be reconfigured. She said she needed more detail before she could make this sort of commitment.
Amanda Taylor (Lib Dem) also spoke of the need for assurance about KORA and to know if they are good at what they do. Although independent, if they are located in the library they will be seen as part of the County Council and affect the Council’s own reputation. It would be bad to lose the café, which caters for parents & children and  pensioners, to whom it offers economical lunches – a welcome contrast to commercial outlets in the Grand Arcade. Ironically, bookshops are improving their resilience by augmenting the books sales with cafés, but we are told the County’s library café is losing money. Amanda said that before any decision is taken, there should be consultation with library users as well as a presentation by KORA.

Cllr Susan van de Ven (Lib Dem) described it as an ‘enormous change’ for one of our key public services and that it was our job to ask questions.  On behalf  of residents who had contacted her, she asked what would become of the Cambridgeshire Collection during the interim period before being rehoused in Ely.  She also asked how GCSE and A level students would cope if the library was closed during exam period.   She said she felt it was entirely reasonable to have an opportunity to question KORA before decision making, and felt this was not a decision that should be delegated.

Labour councillor Noel Kavanagh highlighted the risk involved — there are other facilities in Cambridge offering the same services such as the CUP Pitt Building and the University Centre which could be undermined. Any new café might well end up having to be closed at particular times to accommodate business events.

Tory, UKIP and Independent councillors all supported the proposals and talked of the need for assets to pay for themselves and of the potential international links as well as to skills & employment and the opportunity for cross-fertilization of ideas.

Cllr van de Ven moved an amendment to the motion calling for a deferral pending a presentation from KORA, which I seconded. Unfortunately we were outvoted on the amendment and the original recommendation went through. 

For a copy of the report to councillors, see here:
http://www2.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/CommitteeMinutes/committee-document.aspx/committees-new/hci/2015-03-17/Reports/8816/150317-5.doc
38 Degrees is running a petition called Don’t privatise the third floor of Cambridge Central Library, in which they highlight the dubious tax arrangements of KORA’s parent company, the Regus Group. It’s already on over 600 signatures.

Speedwatch needs you!

speedoAlongside parking, speeding is one of the most common complaints around here, so I was pleased to see the police are considering starting a Community Speedwatch scheme in Cambridge and gauging the level of interest. Sergeant Ian Wood has just put out a recruitment email on e-cops and invited us to spread the word – so here you are. Ian writes:

These schemes have been hailed a great success in other areas of the county (and nationally), and helps local residents feel more empowered to address road safety in their neighbourhood.  We will provide volunteers with full training and equipment, as well as ongoing support and site surveys – all we require from you is your time.

There’s more information on the police website (www.cambs.police.uk/roadsafety/speedwatch ), and further enquiries can be addressed to [email protected] .  Please feel free to pass on the message to friends, neighbours and colleagues who may have an interest in Cambridge Speedwatch.

Rediscover the Rock Road of 100 years ago

As the chilling stories of the First World War are retold in this centenary commemoration, do you sometimes wonder what everyday life was like in 1914 in this area? Not just for those at the front, but for children, wives and families at home; for land girls, conscientious objectors, and other non-combatants?

The Friends of Rock Road Library have been awarded a £9,500 grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a two year project documenting the area around the Library during the First World War.Since then they have been researching the impact of WWI on the lives of people in this area.

In ten days time, 27th November, the Friends will be opening their ‘Stories from a Neighbourhood’ exhibition to showcase their findings, telling the story of the Rock Road area at war through maps, photographs, biographies, souvenirs and newspaper articles about the people who lived in our houses 100 years ago. The launch event on the 27th will have the bonus of a talk about First World War Cambridge by local historian Mike Petty.

The event starts at 8pm, viewing at 7.30pm.