Cambridge to Brighton

Here’s some good news: next May, we’ll be able to take direct trains to Brighton from Cambridge, and next year, to Maidstone too. Travelling to Gatwick Airport is about to get easier too – through trains will mean no more struggling with luggage on the Underground.

Govia has been planning improvements to Thameslink for some time but has just announced the first phase of improvements scheduled for May 2018: top of the list are new cross-London connections from Cambridge and Peterborough to the south coast via Gatwick.

GTR also promise greater capacity and a new, more reliable timetable. And there are new trains too – the Siemens-built 700s are ‘smart’ trains are more comfortable and spacious. But what I most like the sound of are the RTI screens which GTR say will ‘ tell passengers how the Tube is running and where to find more space on board.’ The Reverend Awdry would have been in seventh heaven.

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!

why

www.notoamayor.org.uk

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.

An elected mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough?

The councilsPeterborough and Cambridgeshire could come together with a joint authority and an elected mayor, under government devolution proposals. The good news is that the deal would bring more money for transport, housing and other infrastructure. The bad news, for many, is that the government demands an elected mayor.

All the councils in Cambridgeshire and Peterbrough are debating the government’s deal, holding extraordinary meetings. Before voting at Cambridgeshire County Council, I visited Peterborough City Council’s meeting to get a different perspective.

Peterborough Town’s Hall a short stroll from the main railway station, near the city museum and cathedral. It’s imposing from the outside: my problem was getting inside, as the front door was firmly shut, with a small sign directing me to a back entrance in St Peter’s Street.

Once I had found my way in, I was led up some old stone stairs to the public gallery. This gives a good view of the council chamber and you can actually hear the speakers too, which is more than can be said for arrangements at Shire Hall.

The chamber is a mixture of ancient and modern – reasonably enough for a New Town that still has a Norman cathedral and the remains of a prehistoric causeway, Flag Fen. The furniture is up to date with big desks for all those council papers and comfy chairs (such comfort as would not be risked at Shire Hall.) There are lovely old wrought iron lights and a gorgeous ceiling decorated with lilies, roses and thistles. One one wall hang two Victorian worthies and on the other the St George’s flag and the Union Jack. No EU flag.

The meeting opened thoughtfully with prayers and a 1-minute silence for the recently murdered MP Jo Cox.

Although I couldn’t quite tell who was who, the speeches seemed to break down pretty neatly by party: the Conservatives talked up the devolution deal, the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Liberal1 members exposed its deficiencies.

Cllr Seaton proposed the motion, declaring that the deal was Brexit-proof – he’d been given advice. He was pleased about the promises for a University Enterprise Zone and ‘local decisions being taken locally’. It was a great opportunity.

The next councillor talked about how he had sat on a committee arranging devolution. At first, only large metropolitan cities such as London and Manchester were considered, but now the government was extending the offer more widely. Not that he would claim credit…

Lib Dem Darren Fower was less than enthralled. He pointed out several flaws – eight altogether. He said Peterborough was being compromised by having weaker representation on the new body, and by threats to its autonomy on transport and planning. The new authority would inevitably be Conservative. And Cllr Fower was the first – but not the last – to bring up the extra housing money being assigned to Cambridge.

Labour Cllr Ferris questioned the need for an elected mayor. Most cities, when offered a mayor in a referendum, had said no thank you.

Rush and Drew spoke about the proposed consultation. Responses should surely not be only on line. And must be made public. Could there be roadshows?

Cllr Over bemoaned losses when Peterborough split from Cambridgeshire to become a unitary authority in the 1990s. Powers on health and education had been taken away, and Peterborough had been regarded as a colony far up in the north of the county where it could be safety ignored. The new combined authority must meet in between the two cities and not be based in Cambridge.

Labour councillors Murphy and Ellis also criticized the democratic aspects of the deal. Elected Mayor: O, can we not? A mayor could only be denied with a two-thirds majority – much harder than on a council!

Liberal Chris Ash could not support an elected mayor and the extra bureacracy – and wasn’t it undemocratic for the mayor to appoint the deputy? He too was reluctant to join up with Cambridgeshire – good things had happened since breaking away last time.

New councillor Azurula made a passionate maiden speech about the needs of his constituents in North Ward. He wanted the deal to address issues of deprivation, including low life expectancy.

Lib Dem councillor Julia Davidson expressed scepticism about the consultation, as the timetable outlined in the papers allowed no time for comments to be acted on.

The Tories’ responses to the many valid criticisms made were rather weak. They assured the council that future deals would be better and that the consultation might leverage improvements to this one. They ignored the objections to the new mayor and focussed on his location: you never know, he might not be from Cambridge; he might work in Cambridge but live in Peterborough! 2

THE VOTE

The Conservatives, having promoted and praised the deal, voted FOR – not surprisingly.

The Liberals and Liberal Democrats, having spoken of several important shortcomings in the deal, voted AGAINST – not surprisingly.

Labour, having highlighted the lack of democracy and made other criticisms without saying one positive word for the deal, voted FOR too. That was rather strange.

The other eight councils in the area are taking their votes this week. So far, Cambridge City, Cambridgeshire and South Cambs have voted in favour of the devolution proposals. The public gets its say over the summer.

1Peterborough has members who sit as Liberals and not as Liberal Democrats, due to a local row at the time when the Liberal Party merged with the SDP.

2The mayor being Conservative AND from Cambridge are unlikely, given that Cambridge has not one Conservative councillor.

Police warn of credit card scam

scam alertKate Thwaites, the Cambridge Community Safety/Crime Reduction Officer, has issued the following warning about scams via the Constabular’s eCops system:

A fresh warning is being issued over a courier fraud scam which targets the elderly and vulnerable who receive a phone call from fraudsters saying they are from their bank or the police. Several people in the Peterborough area have fallen victim to this scam in the last few days.

Tricksters tell the victim they are calling because there has been suspicious activity on their account and advise them to call the bank from the number on the back of their card. But when they hang up and call their bank or police, the fraudster manages to stay on the line and even though a new number is dialled the victim is still on the phone to the fraudster.

The con artist then gains their trust and asks them to either say or key in their PIN number before telling them their card will be collected and a replacement delivered. A courier calls later that day to collect the card.

You can hear an example of this type of call by watching the following film clip at Herts Police website

http://www.herts.police.uk/hertfordshire_constabulary/latest_news/news_articles/260115_-_1819.aspx <http://www.herts.police.uk/hertfordshire_constabulary/latest_news/news_articles/260115_-_1819.aspx>

Variations of this scam include people being sent to high street stores to purchase expensive items, which are later collected by fraudsters.

For further information regarding the latest scams please visit<http://www.consumberhub.org>

 

Cambridgeshire volunteers first winners of new award

When Cambridgeshire libraries put out a call for volunteers a couple of years ago, both the Library Service and the Friends were delighted with the numbers of people who came forward. At Rock Road Library, people come to help with gardening, reading with children, giving talks, and telling stories. I’ve seen people of all ages taking part, from the under-8s to the over-80s.

Now the willingness of local people to get stuck in with supporting these great community services has been recognized with a special award.

Cambridgeshire’s Library and Archive Service has been presented with the Five Star Focus Award for its volunteering programme by Volunteering, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, a partnership of Volunteer Centres.

Not only that, but the Library & Service is the first winner in the county.

Cambridgeshire Libraries, and Archives have a wide range of valuable volunteers of all ages – from Computer Buddie and Rhymetime Assistants to the Library at Home service.

Anyone interested in a volunteering opportunity with Cambridgeshire Libraries and Archives can find out more on the Cambridgeshire County Council website, at http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/leisure/libraries/community.htm

Police elections this Thursday: why I am a semi-floating voter

This Thursday, 15th November 2012, will see Britain’s first ever elections for Police & Crime Commissioners to oversee our police forces. Everyone in England and Wales outside of London will vote for a Police & Crime Commissioner for their county. They will be in charge of Chief Constables, set budgets set policing priorities. Here is a list of the candidates standing for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The Police Commissioners are intended by the Conservatives to provide greater accountability to the communities they serve. I question whether one person is more accountable than the police authorities, which comprised a number of people. Nevertheless, here we have an opportunity to get people thinking seriously about policing matters, including how best to handle offenders and prevent reoffending. (more…)