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Parties clash over Cambridgeshire County Council committee structure change

The Conservatives and the new joint administration at Cambridgeshire County Council have clashed on their first policy issue since the balance of power shifted after the elections.

Parties clash over Cambridgeshire County Council committee structure change (47331051)
Parties clash over Cambridgeshire County Council committee structure change (47331051)

The Liberal Democrats, Labour and four independents have formed a joint administration outnumbering the Conservatives, who remain the largest single party but are now in opposition.

The joint administration was formalised at the authority’s annual general meeting on Tuesday (May 18) held at the Imperial Museum in Duxford, following an agreement between the parties at Shire Hall on Friday.

Its first move was to reduce the number of committees from seven to five, which it says will save £72,000 in a year in councillor allowances. The decision has meant the removal of the standalone health committee and merging it with the adults committee.

The aim of the newly-created adults and health committee is to improve the integration between health and social care.

The Conservatives opposed the change, with Conservative councillor Chris Boden stating the change will “deprioritise health” at a time when “our work on public health has never been so important”.

He and other Conservative councillors said the workload for both committees is too much to be combined and “simply won’t work”.

Conservative councillor Kevin Reynolds added: “Transparency and accountability does not come easily to the health sector and therefore members who are scrutinising it really have got to be on the ball.”

He said “I genuinely fear for the unintended consequences and outcomes” of the decision, and said it is a “physical impossibility” for one group of councillors to monitor both policy areas.

Conservative councillor Mark Goldsack called it an “opportunist approach for less work”.

The leader of the Conservative group, Steve Count, who was leader of the council prior to the election, said the authority already takes health into account for all policy decisions. He added the joint administration’s decision is “wrong”.

Conservative Mark Howell said he has worked in the care industry and health sector. He opposed the change, but said “this could work possibly in the future”.

Cllr Howell raised concerns that some issues will be overshadowed, and said the new joint administration has moved “far too quickly to just jump into this”.

Labour councillor Richard Howitt, a former MEP, said it was a fair question put by Cllr Boden, but said: “I have to fundamentally disagree with him that this is in any sense a prioritisation of health. “This new administration intends to give greater priority to health than we have seen in the last few years.”

He added: “The primary motivation behind this is to integrate social care with health. The people want that. The people who are falling down the cracks need it. It’s the policy of the government of his own party”.

The newly-appointed leader of the council, Liberal Democrat councillor Lucy Nethsingha, said welcomed the debate.

But said: “I hope that there is understanding that health is a key priority right across this council.We just differ on the best way to deliver on that.”

Both Labour and Conservative councillors resorted to reading out text messages they claimed to each have received from former Labour councillor Linda Jones, who was a member of the health committee up until the recent elections.

Cllr Boden read out what appeared to be private text messages from the former councillor he claimed were sent to him over the past few days. One message described the change in committee system to remove a standalone health committee as a “complete disaster”.

Cllr Boden said the message purportedly sent by the ex Labour councillor said the proposal was a “Lib Dem requirement”.

The joint administration said the change in committee structure will make a saving of £72,000 a year in councillor allowances, £52,000 of which would have been paid to councillors from its groups for acting as chairs and vice chairs of the two removed committees.

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