Queen Edith’s to stay single!

New Queen Edith's county council divison

New Queen Edith’s county council divison

The Local Government Boundary Commission has made its final recommendations on the new county division boundaries – and Queen Edith’s is to stay as an independent division, and NOT be merged with Trumpington, despite their earlier recommendations.The new division will be larger than the current one, with  an estimated 8,342 electors compared to 7,694 now.

Queen Edith’s moves eastward, losing ground in the west and gaining some in the north and east. Part of Long Road, most of the western side of Hills Road, Luard Road and Close and Sedley Taylor Road will return to Trumpington, where they used to be before the last boundary changes; and parts of Cherry Hinton Road and its side roads will come into Queen Edith’s. Institution-wise, we will lose a hospital and a university college; we will gain a chalk pit, a caravan park, cinema and bowling alley.

They listened

The Commission had a change of heart after reading submissions from local people. Over 40 submissions opposed the proposal for a two-member Trumpington & Queen Edith’s division, plus several others who opposed double divisions in general. There was just one submission in favour of the merger. A big thank you to everybody who considered the recommendations and made submissions.

The Commission writes:

‘We have adopted the single-member divisions of Trumpington and Queen Edith’s, which take into account evidence received from local respondents that Trumpington and Queen Edith’s should be in separate divisions.

The majority of local residents in the Queen Edith’s area of Cambridge were opposed to our proposed two-member Trumpington & Queen Edith’s division. They preferred the division to be split into two single-member divisions. We have modified our recommendations and propose a single-member Queen Edith’s division. We consider this division effectively balances our three statutory criteria and it forms part of our final recommendations.’

The final step is for the recommendations to be put before parliament. Subject to parliamentary scrutiny the new boundary will come into force at the county council elections next May. City council and parliamentary boundaries remain the same until they too are reviewed.

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is conducting an inquiry into procedural mistakes made with the Cambridge Library Enterprise Centre decision (now rescinded).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

Queen Edith’s being pushed eastwards!

QE red wardThe Boundary Commission has just published proposals for changes to the Cambridgeshire electoral divisions, as part of its periodic review. The Commission is charged with arranging the boundaries of the divisions so that they all have roughly the same ratio of electors per councillor. For example, at present, Cherry Hinton has 6,344 voters, while Market Ward in the city centre has 8,495. The new boundaries are intended to come into effect in 2017, when we next have Cambridgeshire County Council elections, so the figures take account of projected housing growth, eg the Bell School. The other factor is that the total number of councillors will be reduced from 69 to 61.

This review is for the county council elections and will not automatically change the Cambridge City Council ward boundaries, although the City Council may well follow suit so that people are in the same voting areas for all local elections. Who knows what impact it will have on a future parliamentary boundary review? Maybe there will be a chance to address the odd situation of Queen Edith’s having a different MP to the rest of Cambridge, but there are no guarantees.

Although Queen Edith’s is in between the two extremes with just over 7,000 voters, the proposal is to shift us eastward in order to get the numbers right on other wards which will have greater housing growth.

The Commission wants to move the odd side of Hills Road and everybody to its west into Trumpington, and to move parts of Cherry Hinton Road and streets leading off it into Queen Edith’s. Ironically, that would echo the ward boundaries before the last review. We’d lose Addenbrooke’s and Long Road Sixth Form College, but gain Hills Road Sixth Form College. Although the colleges don’t have any residents, it makes sense for the institutions that affect a community to be represented by the same councillor.

The Commission is also proposing to add the Greystoke Road area and the Cherry Hinton chalk pits – which have more of a Cherry Hinton feel to them than a Queen Edith’s one. It makes the ward a very strange shape. Here’s a map: https://consultation.lgbce.org.uk/node/4143

The Commission is inviting your comments up until 6th July.

Queen Edith’s still left out in the cold

The Boundary Commission has just published its latest proposals  for changing parliamentary constituency boundaries – but it is still ignoring local people’s requests to include Queen Edith’s in the City of Cambridge constituency. Although we’re represented by councillors on Cambridge City Council and pay our council tax to Cambridge, we are not like everyone else in Cambridge represented in Parliament by Julian Huppert , but by Andrew Lansley. Party politics and personal qualities aside, we have little in common with these villages.

The Boundary Review is charged with culling MPs from 533 to 502, and arranging the numbers of electors so that every MP represents a similar number – between 72,810 and 80,473 people. No constituency is allowed to be more than 5% above or below an electoral quota.

Like others in this area, I am dismayed that they are proposing to keep Queen Edith’s out of the city constituency – see previous post on this topic

They are proposing to move Queen Edith’s out of South Cambridgeshire – not into the city, but into another rural constituency, South East Cambridgeshire, where it will sit with places such as Soham and Bottisham. This is frustrating, especially as the Commission say they have ‘some sympathy’ with putting Queen Edith’s into the Cambridge constituency.

Their only justifications for not doing so are:

the main political parties agree with the initial proposals

Not entirely true, as the Liberal Democrats in this constituency at least wrote in asking for Queen Edith’s to go into the city) But why should the political parties’ views carry more weight than those of voters?

the counter-proposal was advanced by ‘a very small number of individuals’.

I do not know how many people have to advance a case for it to count, but I know of at least three Queen Edith’s people apart from myself who made representations – how many more there were I cannot tell as the representations section of the Commission’s website is labyrinthine!

You will have to excuse a certain scepticism about commenting on the revised proposals. If you still feel strongly that Queen Edith’s belongs in the city, then you have until 10th December to make a representation. If you want to help make the point, please do so – here is an online form: https://form.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk/review-team/revised_proposals/consultation/intro/view

Here is my own: Boundary Commission representation_revised Mine is quite long, but you don’t have to write an essay: some of the comments on their site from the last round of consultation are just one or two sentences.

You can also email the Boundary Commission at: [email protected]

Please post a copy here, so we know the real number of people making representations.

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Delay after delay on parking review

County Councillor Geoff Heathcock has taken up the slow progress on our parking review with Cambridgeshire County Council‘s Tory Cabinet Member responsible for Highways, Tony Orgee.

Cllr Heathcock has with the rest of the Queen Edith’s Focus Team been pushing for a parking review but progress has been too slow, leaving residents frustrated.

He raised the issue at last week’s full meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council and received assurances that the matter would be investigated.

“We have had delay after delay and im absolutely sick of the situation – this whole process has been wandering along for over a year – and now we are told the exhibitions promised for September will now be conducted in November! This is simply not good enough when the parking problems are growing daily – and residents see no respite whatsoever.”