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Reviewing local government to improve services for Cambridge residents

By Cllr Lewis Herbert

Councillor Lewis Herbert. Picture: Keith Heppell
Councillor Lewis Herbert. Picture: Keith Heppell

Leader of Cambridge City Council on the inevitable review of how local government works in Cambridgeshire.

Local services we receive from our councils matter a lot to all of us, and the quality of those services matters far more than which council provides them.

Councils are already increasing efficiency, including by joint working between Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire and between Cambridgeshire and Peterborough on new shared services. This has avoided even bigger service cuts after the ending of core Government grant to most councils.

But wider reform of councils has never been far away and was included in the recent Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution deal. Now, new mayor James Palmer has announced plans for a review of local government across our whole area.

While the detail has still to be published, it is expected to cover all seven councils and the mayoral Combined Authority, police and fire authorities, Local Enterprise Partnership and service links with the NHS and other partners, and they all need to be involved and fully committed for this review to work.

My interest in the review is to get the best for Cambridge and the whole area, but also because I have worked on similar reviews before. So I want to share several tests by which you can judge whether the planned review will succeed or not.

First, it needs to start with clear and published objectives, with residents and communities at the centre of deciding what services get priority. There then needs to be full and open discussion of the review objectives before launching it. If the review goes off half-cock it will end badly and be damaging. In other parts of the UK, there are divisive range wars between councils, caused by biased reviews and a failure to get community buy-in from the start.

It must be a truly independent review, neutral and thorough, based on sound evidence and options analysis, informed by all our collective expertise locally on how we can work better together for residents. The review team needs to give residents and local organisations, and all councils and councillors, the opportunity of a real say, and if individual communities don’t like changes proposed, their view must be heeded.

The most difficult future issues need reviewing, tackling massive challenges such as: 1) Social care, which can only succeed if joined with the NHS and properly funded; 2) Helping local jobseekers most in need of extra skills to win better-paid jobs; and 3) Sharing prosperity and affordable rental housing across the whole area, with priority for disadvantaged communities and households.

This also needs Government to agree further devolution of powers to the Combined Authority and our local councils, and a bonfire of miles of Whitehall red tape and funding blocks which currently prevent councils’ chance of tackling major problems successfully.

All service delivery must remain locally accountable, including delivery at the most feasible local level, and there needs to be full consultation when the review reports before change.

Make sure you have your say. If you want to share your views on local government reform, I suggest you email the mayor or me at lewis.herbert@cambridge.gov.uk. This review must work for all communities and residents. It is too important to fail due to poor planning or ineffective engagement and consultation.


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