Why prospective elected mayors should pause after the Cambridge roadblocks fiasco

It appears that Labour/ Conservative proposals to fine drivers using key roads in and out of Cambridge in peak hours may be for the scrap heap, or at least the City Deal chair, Labour councillor Lewis Herbert, has declared them ‘unviable’.

It’s excellent that the huge volume of objections appears to have forced the Cambridge area’s City Deal Board into a rethink. But such a plan shouldn’t have seen the light of day in the first place, especially without proper exploration of other ways to achieve the very necessary aim of reducing traffic congestion in Cambridge.

The decision two years ago to introduce parking charges at the Cambridge Park & Ride sites resulted in half-empty car parks and a drop of 15% in bus passenger numbers. That clearly needs to be reversed. And we need an open and wide-ranging conversation including all who live or work in Cambridge, or visit the city for whatever purpose, about how to make travelling into the city more sustainable.

But the whole fiasco is also an object lesson in what happens under remote boards like City Deal, consisting of representatives selected by councils to make decisions at an extra remove from the public. And it’s an alarm bell about how decisions on all sorts of matters will be taken by the new ‘powerful Mayor’ of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and his ‘combined authority’, which will be foisted on us by the Government and by Conservative and Labour councillors from May next year.

80K Elected Mayor? No thank you!



The good news: The Government is proposing to devolve some powers, giving Cambridgeshire and Peterborough control over funding for new housing, transport and other infrastructure.

The bad news: in return, they are demanding we have an elected mayor. Unlike ceremonial mayors, elected mayors take executive decisions. The government’s plan is for an elected mayor to lead the new combined authority that would take decisions on the spending.

The Liberal Democrats have opposed having an elected mayor, at Cambridgeshire County Council and in other councils in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area (see my post on Peterborough City Council’s meeting). We have voted against the proposals, but have been outvoted by the Labour and Conservative parties.

I spoke on the elected mayor element at an extraordinary meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council on Tuesday.

Devolution is meant to be a step forward for democracy, but elected mayors are a step backwards, making government more remote from the people it serves. An individual representing a million people is not likely to have more than a superficial knowledge of local areas.

It is dangerous to concentrate power into the hands of one individual, especially as the proposals we have provide for no right of recall. I fear there is a risk of slipping into ‘personality politics’.

Ironically, it was that great populist Tony Blair who introduced elected mayors in 2000. But even he didn’t force them upon local areas: if cities wanted a mayor they had to get 5% of the population to sign a petition for a referendum, and only if that referendum was passed would a mayor be introduced. Out of 40 referendums, only 13 cities said yes. I remember that the Labour party in Cambridge tried to get a petition up for a mayor, though as we never saw it, we assume they couldn’t get enough signatures.

As there haven’t been any successful petitions anywhere else in Cambridgeshire or Peterborough, it looks as though people here don’t want an elected mayor.

We are told ‘a mayor is necessary’, but why? Why can’t the new combined authority just elect a chair from its own members? The case for an elected mayor has not been made.

We hear the mayor is going to have a salary of £60-80,000 and have an office costing about £300,000. And this after huge cuts to essential services to children’s services and social care!

I applaud the devolving of powers and welcome the extra funding for infrastructure, especially for new houses. But we must say that we do not want an elected mayor on a big salary. I think the public is very unlikely to support that.

UPDATE: Sign the Liberal Democrat petition opposing an elected mayor.

Cutting the tape: Vice-Chair and Mayor join locals to celebrate library transformation

RRL tape Last night, the new Mayor of Cambridge, Cllr Gerri Bird, and the vice-chair of Cambridgeshire County Council, Cllr Sebastian Kindersley, came to cut the tape across the new doors to the library garden and to help us launch the new community room.

We heard from the Friends of Rock Road Library Treasurer James Berry about how the Friends had come into being; standing up for the library when it was under threat, and later working to achieve the improvements that we celebrated last night. We were also treated to a stimulating talk by Mr Owers of NARB Architects on potential future developments at the library.

The library was packed – in addition to our special guests, there were library professionals who had come to look, community development workers, volunteers, Friends, readers galore, several councillors — and as you can see in the picture, the library’s younger members were out in force!

The new community room is currently displaying original illustrations by Arthur Rackham, the artist of Alice in Wonderland and both the creator and inspirer of the Mad Hatter. It is hoped to put on more displays of this nature and ideas are welcome. The room will also be available for use by local groups Monday-Saturday, and booking charges start from just £4 an hour. To book, ring 01223 728530 or email [email protected]

Queen Edith’s Christmas Lights Event, 11th December

Christmas Lights 2011

This year’s Christmas Lights event in Wulfstan Way promises to be extra-special.

As in the past two years, the Mayor of Cambridge will visit to turn on the Christmas Tree lights. Then there will be carols sung by the local church and school choirs.

This year, there’s an extra attraction. Netherhall students have been working with local artist Zoe Chamberlain since the summer on the 60-60 Jubilee Bench, which celebrates the past 60 years in the Wulfstan Way area, as seen through the memories of both older and younger generations. The Jubilee Bench will be unveiled as part of the festivities.

Favourite Fairtrade place in Cambridge? Please tell!

Watching the Mayor put up the first Fairtrade Cambridge sticker

Yesterday, the Mayor of Cambridge, Councillor Ian Nimmo-Smith, put up the first Cambridge Fairtrade sticker in the Green Coffee Company and gave out stickers to Fairtrade retailers, including the Co-op, Harriet Kelsall Jewellery Design and One World Is Enough.

The stickers are sponsored by the Co-operative, which was the first big supermarket to stock Fairtrade goods back in 1992.

Cambridge shoppers are being asked to keep an eye out for Fairtrade goods when they go shopping – and pass on their findings to the Cambridge Fairtrade Steering Group by email ([email protected]) or via their blog http://fairtradecambridge.wordpress.com. Having a good list will help us when we come to renew our Fairtrade City status, and we would like to know about anywhere that sells a range of Fairtrade products. Look out for the green and blue Fairtrade mark.

Cambridge has been a Fairtrade City since  1994.

Father Christmas comes to Queen Edith’s: 6pm on the 6th

Schools, churches, councils, the police and fire service are coming together next Tuesday to celebrate Christmas outside the Wulfstan Way shops in Queen Edith’s.

There will be children’s craft activities (under 5s) from 5.30, then the Mayor of Cambridge, Cllr Ian Nimmo-Smith, will switch on the Christmas lights at 6 p.m. Next comes a community carol-singing, with special performances by the choirs of St James’s, St John’s and the Queen Edith Primary School.

It is hoped Father Christmas will come to join the fun.

See you there. Click here to download a programme.WWXmas2011

Midsummer Octo

Cllrs Zoe Moghadas, Gail Marchant-Daisley, Tim Ward, Sheila Stuart and Ian-Nimmo-Smith, Mayor's Cadet Daniel Pereira.

The great thing about being a councillor is the tremendous variety of things you do. In the past ten days, I’ve taken in part in council meetings, enjoyed the Mayor’s Dinner, done a councillor’s advice surgery, written oodles of emails and letters, read council papers, written press releases, carried out a residents’ survey,  attended the inaugural meeting of the Cambridge Muslim Council – and helped to open an 800 year-old fair! Never a dull moment.

As a City Bailiff, it’s my job to dress up in a Cambridge blue robe and accompany the Mayor on official engagements. In older times, we had to protect the Mayor’s person by fending off insurgents, and remove furniture from tax-dodgers. You can see the snazzy uniform on my fellow Bailiff Sheila in this picture. There are four of us altogether: this year there are two Labour ones and two Lib Dems.

Midsummer Fair is one of my ‘duties’ – and a very pleasant one it is too. Instituted by King John by Royal Charter in 1211, the fair is proclaimed on the fourth Wednesday in June, followed by the throwing of newly minted pennies to the children in the crowd. This year was the big year, as the fair is 800 years old this year, and we were joined by a glittering pantheon of mayors from all over the county as well as our own councillors and honorary councillors.

We toured the fair with the mayor, starting with the dodgems and taking in the carousel and the ghost train, pictured here. I don’t know if they had the ghost train in King John’s day – that could explain a lot! Many thanks to Ridgeons, who sponsored the event.

The Mayor’s Dinner 2011

Last Thursday, Jean, George and I and our respective husbands and wife went to Corpus Christi College for the annual Cambridge City Council Mayor’s Dinner – to celebrate the mayoral year of the outgoing mayor, Cllr Sheila Stuart. After a civilized aperitif in the college gardens, we filed into the dining hall for a feast, with the learned men of bygone ages looking down on us.

On my own table were councillors old and new, with their partners – on the other two tables were people who have contributed to the city in various ways, including Marshalls and Addenbrooke’s.

Sheila had asked one of our local celebrities, Allan Brigham, to propose a toast to her year of office. Allan is probably the City Council’s best-known employee. During the day he works as a street-sweeper, but in his spare time, he is a Blue Badge Guide and local historian who shares his in-depth knowledge of the city’s history by conducting tours.  A couple of years ago, he was awarded an honorary M.A. by the University of Cambridge ‘for services to the community as an historian’.

Allan shared some of this with us on Thursday, reminding us that the college we were sitting in, although the only Oxbridge college to have been founded by the people of the town, despite being stormed by the mayor and townspeople 30 years later, demanding lower rents! The 19th-century architect, William Wilkins, had also designed Downing College and worked at Trinity.

Allan went on to pay tribute to Sheila, saying she had given us ‘a sense of place’ and praising her qualities of ‘showing interest, making time and having the energy’.

He highlighted some of Sheila’s ‘firsts’ in her year as mayor: walking the full 5 miles in the Bridge the Gap walk, cycling all the way to Reach Fair. Some scary ones too, such as abseiling down the side of the Guildhall for charity! He also spoke of the ordinary events such as showing schoolchildren round the Guildhall, chatting to the market traders. (In Queen Edith’s we welcomed Sheila last year both to our Party in the Park at Nightingale Avenue Recreation Ground (pictured) and to the Christmas Carols event outside the Wulfstan Way shops.

Allan concluded by wishing Sheila and Bruce well as they went back to leading a normal life, with the hope that they could ‘have a holiday without having to shake hands all the time’.

Well done to Sheila and Bruce from me. And to Allan. You’ve all done us proud!

Ian Nimmo-Smith is the new Mayor of Cambridge

Ian with former Mayor Cllr Evelyn Knowles

At the City Council’s annual meeting on Thursday, Councillor Ian Nimmo-Smith was made Mayor of the Cambridge for the municipal year 2011-2012.

In his speech proposing Ian, Cllr Damien Tunnacliffe said, ‘Cllr Nimmo-Smith has served as a councillor for over 20 years, and during that time has gained the affection of many, many people from all walks of life. He is a person of great talents and interests, a mathematician, a statistician, school governor, knowledgeable about all things horticultural – a shared interest with Margaret, his wife – a conservator of the River Cam and much more.

‘One great interest is music. I had the pleasure of listening to the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra in which Ian plays, only this past Saturday. Not only does Ian play the viola, he is a violin maker, and for many years ran the Cambridgeshire Holiday Orchestra Association courses for young musicians.’

Ian holds the record for the longest serving Leader of Cambridge City Council. He was Leader for nearly 7 years, from 2003 to 2010. He has also played an important part in committees, especially the Planning Committee.

Ian’s installation as Mayor was witnessed by quite a number of members of his family, including all his children and grand-children, and no fewer than 17 former mayors of the City, including Evelyn Knowles. As an innovation this year (for Cambridge anyway), Ian Nimmo-Smith has started a blog-site for his mayoral year. He will be posting there about his activities as mayor as well as about his work as a local councillor – even the Mayor still gets casework!

The blog site is: http://mayor.cambridge.gov.uk/ Do take a look – Ian has already started posting to it.

The Cambridge News covers the story here.