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Cambridge Liberal Democrats will hold out against local devolution deal

By Ben Comber

Cambridge Guildhall. Picture Keith Heppell
Cambridge Guildhall. Picture Keith Heppell

The county council and city council Lib Dems are fighting the introduction of a new mayor

Local councils should reject the imposition of a directly elected mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. That’s the view of Lib Dem leaders on Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire County Councils.

The Lib Dems will be arguing that local councils should return to the negotiating table with central government and insist on a different deal.

Both Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridge City Council will vote on Tuesday next week after a final debate on the deal which would see the creation of a mayor, elected next May, in return for financial incentives and extra powers from government.

“We are keen to bring decision-making closer to people,” says Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, leader of the Lib Dems on the County Council. “But under the guise of a very limited move in that direction, this deal would add a third - and additional - level of local government and further obscure lines of democratic accountability. Long after the financial incentives have run out, we will be saddled with an unwanted elected mayor across a geography that few have any real affinity with, capable only of meddling in the work of the elected councils in the area.”

They say that instead of an elected mayor, a new deal should see the current two levels of council in the area replaced by potentially larger, unitary councils, which could co-operate in wider planning and co-ordination.

“An elected mayor may be the right thing in a metropolitan area,” says Cllr Tim Bick, leader of the Lib Dems on Cambridge City Council, “but Cambridgeshire and Peterborough would be the first area that is not fully urban to accept it. Other such areas have held out against it and we should do too. Why, apart from vanity, should we serve ourselves up as guinea pigs? Our need is to simplify the already overly complex local decision making, not make it even more complicated.”

Referring to the financial incentives included in the current deal, Cllr Bick continued: “The government is cynically exploiting Cambridge’s need for social housing by trying to connect funding for it to acceptance of an elected mayor. There is no logical relationship of any kind. We should resist it and demand that they meet the needs that they have now clearly accepted. Councils elsewhere have been more tenacious and less conformist and are achieving their goals.”


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