During lockdown, we came to value local food production more than ever. We are particularly lucky because Cambridgeshire and the Fens are home to more than 50% of the UK’s Grade 1 and 2 agricultural land. And much of the production, as well as livestock, is salad and vegetable food, which is becoming ever more important for our health and for climate-friendly diets.
However, farmers are facing a tough time with a rollercoaster of unusual weather conditions, from the extreme cold of the Beast from the East in 2018 to a severe drought with little winter or spring rainfall, and now a wet harvest in August.
This autumn, British food and farming face further uncertainty as the Agriculture Bill returns to the House of Commons to be passed into law, and as trade negotiations continue with countries across the world.
At a hearing in May this year, I was disappointed that our local MPs, Lucy Frazer and Anthony Browne, did not vote to protect the UK from poor quality food being imported through proposed amendments to either the Agriculture Bill or the Trade Bill.
At that time, a poll showed that around 80% of Britons did not want to ditch animal welfare and environmental rules as part of any new trade deal with the United States. More than a million people signed the National Farmers’ Union’s petition urging the government to ensure future trade deals do not lead to an increase in food imports that would be illegal to produce here.
We are quite rightly proud, not only of our world-class animal welfare standards but also of our standards on the sustainable use of pesticides, which reduce risks to consumers and the environment. The UK Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food consistently finds that over 97% of UK-produced food meets or exceeds trading standards – better than imported food.
However, as Jamie Oliver said in his letter to the Prime Minister, British farmers are massively disadvantaged if we “open the floodgates to cheap, low-quality imports from the US and at the same time drive world-class British producers out of business”.
As the Agriculture and Trade Bills come back to Parliament, there has never been a more important time to highlight the crucial role farmers play in feeding the nation and caring for the countryside. On the annual Back British Farming Day, therefore, MPs are being asked to wear a wool and wheatsheaf pin badge in the Palace of Westminster as a sign of their support for British farmers and a commitment to enshrine manifesto promises into law.
Covid-19 has highlighted just how important our food security is. As Liberal Democrats, we submitted a motion to the County Council asking for the Food Standards Commission powers to be made statutory so that they would have teeth. Sadly, although supported by Labour and the Independents, the motion was voted down by the Conservatives on the Council. We believe we need to support our British farmers to produce high-quality food to feed the nation. I hope to see our MPs wearing the wool and wheatsheaf badge and showing they believe the same.
Pippa Heylings, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for South East Cambridgeshire
(Photo: Pippa with farmer Tony Humphrey)
As schools go back this week, Cllr Pippa Heylings (Histon & Impington), Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for South East Cambs, looks back at everything that Heads, teachers and all school staff have had to deal with over the past six months, and we're sure speaks for a great many of us in voicing her gratitude.
Following a request by the Liberal Democrat councillors who represent the affected areas, Anglian Water have allowed a further four weeks for the public to have their say on the initial proposals to move the Cambridge Waste Water Treatment Plant from its current site south of Milton.
Cllr Claire Daunton, Liberal Democrat councillor for Fen Ditton and Fulbourn, said, “Along with the other Liberal Democrat councillors in this area, I asked Anglian Water for more time for the public and Parish Councils to scrutinise these proposals. I am very pleased that they have responded positively.
“This is a very complex project, and it is vital that we understand the implications and make sure that Anglian Water takes all the issues into account. With the consultation period now lasting until after the summer holidays, many more of our residents will get the chance to have their say.”
Cllr Pippa Heylings, Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for South East Cambridgeshire, said, “There is so much change happening just in this small area north of Cambridge, and residents are right to be concerned about the impact on their lives. It is important that we find the most suitable location.
“There are still a lot of outstanding issues that we need answers on. How much traffic will go to and from the new site? How much noise and smell will come from the new site? How does this move contribute to our aims to reduce carbon emissions to zero?
“I would urge all residents of the villages to the north and east of Cambridge to look at the proposals and give their feedback before 14th September. The information can be found on Anglian Water’s special website at http://cwwtpr.com/.”
By Aidan Van de Weyer, Liberal Democrat Prospective Mayor
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 5th August 2020.
In a few weeks, the government will announce plans for big changes to local government, encouraging all areas of the country to accept powerful mayors.
Here in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, we already have one of these metro mayors – the first one not based on a big city. It’s not a way of running things that I like: do people in Peterborough want their affairs decided from Cambridge, or vice versa? But that doesn’t mean we can’t make it work well with the right leadership, by being transparent in all we do and cooperating closely with all residents.
Our mayor has responsibility for creating transport plans and speeding up the construction of affordable housing, as well as providing skills and training to support economic development. These are all things that can have a big and positive impact on all of our lives.
We can be most effective when we are all pushing in the same direction. This is the most important way in which the mayor can contribute: bringing people together around shared goals. This takes a lot of time and effort, but the results will be worth it.
There are some enormous transport projects being planned, costing hundreds of millions of pounds – billions in some cases. We need to get them right. That means building routes in the right places, enhancing the environment, and making alternatives to the car attractive. We cannot make those choices without the involvement of residents and businesses. The mayor is in a unique position to get the broad support required.
We are all now agreed on the urgency of tackling climate change, but there isn’t yet concerted and effective action across the whole area. We are going to have to make big changes to how we live: using less water, coping with extremes of weather, drastically cutting carbon emissions. While we already know a lot of what has to be done, we do need to have everyone on board. The combined authority is able to play a vital role in bringing people together and ensuring focus on action now.
One of the most acute problems that we have is the lack of homes that people can actually afford. The astonishing cost of buying a house here affects people’s lives in so many ways. People have to endure long and expensive commutes. Young people have to move away. Businesses find it hard to recruit. The mayor has been given £170 million to help get more affordable housing built. This can only be done by coordinating with district councils, housing associations, house builders.
The terrible impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be with us for years. The job prospects of young people are disappearing, creating a lost generation. Small business owners are struggling to keep going. More and more people are losing their jobs. As we rebuild the economy after the lockdown, the combined authority can use its responsibilities for skills, training and business support to great effect. The job market will be very different – even if we don’t know exactly how - and we must do all we can to enable training for young people especially, but also retraining at all stages of careers. The combined authority has the resources to shape the new world, investing in a green recovery and making sure jobs are less precarious.
In all of this, the mayor will be constantly working closely with residents, businesses and partner organisations, and therefore must have their trust. As a relatively new organisation, the combined authority is well placed to show how the Nolan principles of public life can be applied to local government. Everything we do must be as open as possible and we need to design ways of being accountable to the public, not just every four years at election time. This needs to be backed up by some really robust processes around all aspects of the work of the combined authority, from spending and procurement to staff appointments.
Like any big organisation, the combined authority will come in for criticism. How it responds is vital to giving people confidence, and it’s not clear that it has been so far. It must always take heed of feedback and address issues with care, as transparently as possible.
With all of the big issues under the control of the combined authority – transport, housing, economic – we need to be thinking long-term, 20 or 40 years ahead. We are currently dealing with choices made 20 years ago; choices we make now will be felt for decades to come. This is well beyond the period of office of any single politician. That is why it is vital that we work hard to create a shared vision for what we want.
Despite all the setbacks we are facing – from coronavirus to Brexit – Cambridgeshire has a bright future. Together, we can realise our full potential and make sure that all of our residents get the benefits.
Lib Dem councillor Aidan Van de Weyer has stood down from the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) Board to concentrate on defeating James Palmer in the election for Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough next May.
South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats have chosen Cllr Neil Gough to replace him as South Cambridgeshire District Council’s representative on the GCP Board.
Cllr Van de Weyer said, “Cambridgeshire needs better leadership than it is getting from Mayor Palmer. Our area is being held back by the incompetence and arrogance of the Tories at the Combined Authority. I will work hard to bring the whole of the county together around a vision for a fair and green future.
“It has been a privilege to sit on the Greater Cambridge Partnership for over two years, including one as Chair. I have been able to ensure that the GCP’s investment is targeted at making a positive difference to the lives of the people of Greater Cambridge.
“I helped set up a Citizens’ Assembly on transport in the area, which was a fantastic way of getting a cross-section of our community involved in the issues and has focussed our work on making our public spaces, including roads, more people friendly.
“I supported the establishment of an apprenticeship brokerage service to help young people access the best training. While I was chair of GCP, the Greenways programme was pushed forward, making so many villages accessible by bike, and I launched the first two electric buses in Cambridgeshire. I helped GCP unlock the next multi-million pound tranche of funding of investment from government."
Bridget Smith, Liberal Democrat Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said, “Aidan will make a fantastic mayor who I know will be trusted to fight for all of the residents of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
“I am very pleased that we have appointed Neil Gough to the Greater Cambridge Partnership. He will bring his enormous professional experience in complex roles. He is just the person to take forward our work there, building on the close collaboration that is needed to deliver infrastructure improvements for the people of South Cambridgeshire.”
A far-reaching motion to eradicate structural racism through a series of practical actions was passed at South Cambridgeshire District Council’s full council meeting on Tuesday 14th July.
The motion, put forward by Lib Dem district Councillor Sarah Cheung Johnson (Longstanton, Oakington & Westwick) and seconded by Councillor Tumi Hawkins, was passed by all councillors present bar one.
The motion addressed insidious racism in a range of areas, including education, employment, health, housing and policing. It proposed:
- Black History Month is made an annual event in South Cambridgeshire
- Reviewing the council’s own structures to ensure ethnic minorities are not disadvantaged in employment or in access to housing and welfare
- Auditing street names and public monuments for racist historical associations
- Writing to the Secretary of State for Education to call for a review of the national curriculum to ensure the inclusion of BAME history and culture in lessons, and asking South Cambridgeshire schools to include such material proactively
- Asking the Police and Crime Commissioner to report on measures for eradicating racism within South Cambs policing
- Requesting a review of the impact of Covid-19 on the local BAME population
- Calling for the Combined Authority to produce a toolkit for businesses to help broaden their understanding of race inequality in the workplace
- Working with the NHS to ensure that it fully compensates BAME staff, who have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19
Cllr Cheung Johnson said: “The death of George Floyd sparked a renewal of the Black Lives Matters movement and it's imperative that we don't allow this to be merely a moment. We must understand that the work of sustained anti-racism is constant and requires our attention at all times. Black Lives Matters doesn't mean they matter more but that they matter equally - which they currently don't. To that end I hope you agree that this motion is one with practical actions we can take. The list is by no means finite and I hope that we would build on it with suggestions from council members, officers and residents on how we do this.”
“I would like to reiterate that racism isn't just about people expressing prejudice - it's not just about Cllr Tumi Hawkins being followed around shops because of her skin colour, or my Chinese friends being called C-words and being blamed for bringing Covid-19 to the country - although these things should not be happening in 2020. It’s about tackling structural racism - the unseen but very real barriers which mean those who are not white do not have equality in our society today. We as a council have a duty to lead these efforts across our district.”
A letter calling for Dominic Cummings' resignation by Ian Sollom, local Lib Dem parliamentary spokesperson, was published in the 27th May edition of the Cambridge Independent. Below is the full text. If you agree with Ian that Cummings must go in order to restore public trust in the government's response to the pandemic please sign our petition.
It’s time for Dominic Cummings to resign
During times of national crisis, politics as usual is generally suspended. There is a natural and just tendency to 'rally to the flag': to will our Prime Minister, our government and our institutions to do their best regardless of our political allegiances. We all chip in and do what we can to help the national collective effort.
As a South Cambs district councillor, it’s been fantastic to see the army of volunteers and organisers step up in our communities to support the most vulnerable. But simply obeying the rules laid down to help prevent the spread of this deadly virus is the single most important contribution any individual can make. The sacrifices we have all made – and for some of us, there have been some truly heart-breaking sacrifices – have undoubtedly saved many lives.
In this context, Dominic Cummings’ actions in travelling to Durham during lockdown must be condemned. His trip risked spreading the virus around the country and flouted rules we all need to obey to protect each other. That Mr Cummings believes his actions were reasonable in exceptional circumstances is an extremely poor defence. These were not exceptional circumstances: countless families with young children have, as instructed by the government, isolated without support at home in this crisis, gritting their teeth and battling on. Many are rightly angry that someone at the heart of government did not keep to rules we were all told we must follow.
The Prime Minister’s backing of his advisor, denying any breach of the rules in letter or in spirit, risks undermining wider public trust and adherence to government guidelines. The possibility of more infections and more deaths as a result cannot be ruled out, and it is deeply concerning that the Prime Minister would put lives at risk in this way, apparently encouraging Conservative backbenchers to do the same: in tweeting similar unapologetic support for Mr Cummings on Saturday, South Cambs MP Anthony Browne revealed his own priorities for his time in office.
I would urge Mr Browne to reconsider his stance. As we move into the next phase of this crisis and new guidelines emerge, it is vital that we continue to feel we are all in this together, making the personal sacrifices that will continue to be necessary. For as long as the government continue to stand by Mr Cummings they show contempt for that collective effort. It is time for him to go.
Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for South Cambs
One month into this very challenging period of lockdown, the number of volunteers that have come forward in virtually every village in the area has been astounding and heartening; it really has been a time when the best in people has shone through adversity.
We have been working closely with these community volunteer groups and putting them in touch with people who need their help, while our district councillors have been calling all elderly residents in their wards to check if they are ok or need any assistance. Find a volunteer group in your locality
The Lib Dem team and the staff at South Cambs District Council have been working very hard to offer residents as much practical help, continuity of service and reassurance as possible. They have compiled a huge amount of advice and support information on their coronavirus page, covering bill payments, housing, help for businesses, domestic abuse and emergency baby supplies among many other things. They have also produced a comprehensive advice pack for parish councils, to support their efforts to help the most vulnerable people in their communities.
Led by Peter McDonald, Lib Dem councillor for Duxford, a dedicated team at the district council have been working at breakneck speed to distribute government grant money to small businesses. They have transferred funds to about 1500 businesses so far, and are trying to track down another 500 that are thought to qualify for aid. If you think you may be one of them and you haven’t heard from the council, please contact them, they are ready to help.
Another piece of good news is that the council is able to start a phased return of green bin collections from 4th May. After a difficult few weeks when they were suspended due to severe staff shortages, a skeleton service will resume, which will ensure safe distancing for the operatives. Find out full details
This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult times that many of us have ever faced. But through pulling together as a community with acts of compassion and generosity, we can make some difference to those who need help the most. Take care everyone, and stay well.
In these very difficult times, your local councillors are here to signpost residents to accurate information and community support, especially for those who are most vulnerable. Please also check South Cambridgeshire District Council's coronavirus page to find out about the latest advice, council services and help available.
It’s been amazing to see volunteer groups springing up all over South Cambs to assist people affected by the coronavirus in their communities. The groups are offering to pick up supplies for people who are having to isolate themselves and check up on those who may need help.
As part of a national initiative by the Liberal Democrat Party, South Cambs Lib Dems have set up a local taskforce to coordinate our network of councillors, members and activists with the volunteer groups’ efforts. We want to help ensure that all those self-isolating, especially the vulnerable and elderly, get the support they need.
We’re pleased to be making the most of our leaflet delivery networks by sharing our street lists and maps with the volunteer groups to support their activities. We’ll also be calling elderly people in the area to check if they need anything.
Whether you are someone who needs help or you would like to volunteer, you can find out what group is active in your neighbourhood here. (If you know of a group that isn’t on this list, please get in touch to let us know.)
In a joint statement, local Lib Dem parliamentary candidates Ian Sollom and Pippa Heylings said:
"As the coronavirus crisis continues, people in South Cambs are rightly concerned about their family, friends and loved ones. Even more people are keen to do something to help.
This crisis is leaving the most vulnerable in our communities at risk and we are determined to do what we can to help them.
"That is why local Liberal Democrats are setting up the Coronavirus Community Taskforce. This will coordinate our network in South Cambs to help ensure that those who are in most need get support."
Take care everyone, and whatever happens, together we can make a difference.
Lib Dems Win County Council By-election
Many congratulations to Peter McDonald, the sitting Lib Dem district councillor for Duxford ward, who won last month’s by-election to also become county councillor for his local division.
Following the resignation of a Conservative councillor, a double by-election for Duxford division and Whittlesford ward was held on 27th February. Peter won by a comfortable majority of 517, gaining 60% of the vote.
A great campaign was also fought in Whittlesford ward by first-time Lib Dem candidate James Hobro. Commiserations to James, who came close with a big swing, achieving 45% vote share. Next time!
Safer, Greener Taxis
The Lib Dem District Council has adopted a new taxi licensing policy that will improve both personal safety and air quality on the roads. From March 2021, CCTV will be compulsory in all Hackney cabs and private hire vehicles based in South Cambridgeshire. And from December 2021, new licences will only be granted to taxis that are ultra-low or zero emission, and licences will be refused to vehicles more than nine years old. These environmental requirements support the Council’s goal of making South Cambs a carbon neutral district before 2050. Full policy details
Extraordinary Times at the Combined Authority
In February Mayor James Palmer announced that his Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority would take control of public transport improvements in the area. A final decision on the Cambourne to Cambridge Guided Busway was due to be made by the Greater Cambridge Partnership on 19th February, but the papers were pulled after the Mayor’s announcement, in which he said that the scheme didn’t fit with his plans for the Cambridge Autonomous Metro.
This despite the fact that the GCP has been working alongside the Mayor’s office, which had not raised any concerns since late 2018, when the Mayor agreed that the outline plan would fit with his vision for CAM. The proposals include delivering phase one of the CAM, covering connections to Cambourne, Waterbeach, Granta Park and towards Newmarket. So his announcement is completely at odds with recent Combined Authority decisions. It’s not clear if he has the power to take control from the GCP in this way, but we understand discussions with central government are ongoing.
Dire Finances at the County Council Set to Continue
Cambridgeshire County Council has approved a budget that includes a £4-million deficit, while once again not raising Council Tax as much as it could. Council Tax will go up this year by 1.59% instead of the permitted 1.99%, which will further contribute to the tide of disappearing public services - and save the average Band D property 11p a week. The Council's annual revenue is now £22 million less than it would have been, had the Conservatives agreed to go up to permitted limits for Council Tax increases in recent years.
Lib Dem county councillors have consistently voted for permitted Council Tax rises, in line with most local authorities around the country. But even this would not fill the enormous gap created over many years - most dramatically through central government's total withdrawal of the Revenue Support Grant, which used to be the lion's share of spending power for councils. The Conservative government's strategy of issuing one-off capital grants creates good-news headlines, but doesn't enable councils to plan and manage their finances in order to run effective public services.
The Council is now introducing controversial and complex new charges to vulnerable people receiving Adult Social Care as a drastic measure to generate revenue. Meanwhile, in the realm of highways maintenance, you only have to look at local streets and pavements to see the effects of 'managed decline'. There are countless other stark examples of how services are falling apart and unable to meet growing demand, with a hard impact on so many people's daily lives.
As part of their continued efforts towards making South Cambs carbon neutral by 2050, Lib Dem councillors have drawn up a bold plan to dramatically reduce the energy bills and carbon emissions of the District Council building in Cambourne.
This includes a ground-source heat pump, which will reduce gas consumption by 80%; a solar canopy over the car park to generate more than 20% of the electricity needed; LED lights to save around 15% on energy; much more efficient systems for heating, cooling and air circulation in the building; and 20 electric-vehicle charging points.
These measures will save the Council about £100,000 within the first year as well as reducing its carbon footprint by almost half. The investments will pay for themselves within 16 years, after which they will start to generate revenue - and they will have lower ongoing maintenance costs too. It’s a win-win-win!
This is part of a £5-million investment to tackle the climate crisis in the Council’s 2020-21 budget, agreed by councillors in February 2020. It includes spending £1.3 million on improving the energy-efficiency of council homes, replacing 1800 streetlights with LED lighting and purchasing an electric bin lorry to see whether it’s viable to shift to an all-electric fleet.
East West Rail route confirmed
Lib Dem district councillors have welcomed the route selected for East West Rail, the new railway that will link Cambridge and Oxford. The line will go through Cambourne, which was the option South Cambs District Council had supported. The environmental impact of the route was a top consideration in the decision-making. Details of the route
Lib Dem councillor Aidan Van de Weyer, Deputy Leader and Lead Cabinet Member for Strategic Infrastructure at SCDC, said: “We are pleased and relieved that an announcement has finally been made on the route of East West Rail. We are also supportive of the decision to run the new railway from Bedford to Cambridge via Cambourne. We were told that one of the key factors in determining the route was the environmental opportunities that this option offers. Any project of this size has an impact, but overall it will offer huge scope for environmental enhancements, much of which will be in South Cambridgeshire. The decision on whether this will be an electrified line has not yet been made but we are told that it will be a net zero-carbon railway, which is exactly what we would want as we move towards being a zero-carbon district by 2050.”
Councillor Bridget Smith, Lib Dem Leader of SCDC, said: “I have asked East West Rail to work very closely with local councillors and officers, and to fully engage with all of our affected villages from the outset. This is vital so they know exactly what is going on and have every opportunity to input their views during the whole process.”
Have your say on these local issues
Cambridge South Station: Please find a moment to respond to the consultation on the proposed Cambridge South Station serving Addenbrookes, Royal Papworth and the Biomedical campus. The consultation closes on 2nd March 2020.
Fire Authority: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority is proposing a 2% increase to the fire service’s portion of council tax for 2020/21. This equates to an extra £1.41 a week for a Band D property. The government’s grant for the Fire Authority will stay the same, so the council tax increase will only cover inflation, enabling the Fire Authority to maintain the current service (but not to make any additional investments). Do you support the proposed increase?
New police stations: Cambridgeshire Constabulary is consulting the public on a proposal to “replace our outdated facilities at Parkside with both a new city centre police station and a police hub on the outskirts of Cambridge.” Find out more and have your say before 29th February 2020.
Schools funding (or lack thereof)
South Cambs Lib Dems are disappointed that the County Council has had to ask the Department for Education if it can redirect 1.8% of the main schools budget to the High Needs Block, to help provide for the increasing portion of children needing extra support. This would mean that funding in mainstream schools would decrease by £50 per pupil. Another illustration of the dire lack of government funding for the education of our children.
Helping you to save on energy bills
The Lib Dem District Council carried out a survey of all houses in South Cambs to identify those that are least fuel-efficient. It has contacted 250 such homes to help improve their insulation or heating systems, as the Disabled Facilities Grant now covers this type of upgrade. Applicants are means-tested and there is a cap of £10,000 per household. Depending on the initial uptake, the Council will be able to extend the offer to more homes, as the grant was underspent in recent years.
The Council will also be offering an energy-efficiency advice service in due course. Owner-occupiers, and both council and private tenants, will be able to have a free assessment and receive advice on how to obtain grants or get discounts for energy-saving improvements. Look out for info on when this will be available!
Find out about the Lib Dems' plan to make South Cambs carbon neutral by 2050.