South Cambs News March 2020

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.  

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