South Cambridgeshire will be a different council in two years' says leader Cllr Bridget Smith
The Liberal Democrats have big plans now that they're in charge.
Big changes are being promised over the next two years by the new leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council.
Cllr Bridget Smith’s leadership was confirmed last week and already the Liberal Democrats are making changes to “do things the right way, not the easy way”.
“It needs a lot of change,” Cllr Smith said of the council. “It will take us a while fully to understand what we’ve inherited but we know there’s a better way of doing things and we shall be implementing those changes over the next two years.
“I would hope that in two years’ time this council will look very different.
“I hope the immediate change people will notice is that we are going to be bending over backwards to engage better with residents.
“The council has always claimed to be a listening council. We’re going to be a council with heart, so we really are going to be taking people seriously and making sure we represent them.”
This will start with Cllr Smith, and a cabinet of five, meeting with every parish council in the district.
“It’s really important that the parish councils know us, that we’re not remote and they feel they can communicate with us,” she said, “and it’s really important that we know parishes other than just our own.”
Because, she explained, each parish has its own concerns and challenges. It’s this broad range of issues that Cllr Smith thinks lead to the political shift revealed after election day.
“There were quite a lot of factors in play,” Cllr Smith continued.
“Brexit certainly was a factor for some people, but not all of them. I think the last four years, the lack of a local plan and five-year housing land supply, which we just heard this week that we have, although only just, was very significant to those villagers who have suffered as a result of speculative development.
“I think the calibre of candidates that the Liberal Democrats had was also a big factor. They are quite extraordinary, these 20 new Liberal Democrat councillors. They are all people who are the best of community activists, they are well known, they’re energetic, engaging people who really want to make a difference.
“I think most importantly there’s a real appetite for a return to Liberal politics in South Cambridgeshire.”
For now, Cllr Smith is keeping the authority’s purse strings drawn shut as the council realigns its spending priorities.
“I cannot at this stage of the game commit us to spending money because I have to know where the money is coming from,” Cllr Smith said. But some changes are already coming into play.
The district is following the example of Cambridge city by moving to a pre-scrutiny decision model. Moreover, the chair of the scrutiny panel will be a member of the opposite political party. This is not how things were done under the Conservatives.
“It used to be the case here when I first joined 10 years ago,” Cllr Smith explained. “Gradually that got whittled away. We’ve complained and complained about it, so now we’ve taken control we absolutely have to put our money where our mouth is.”
Cllr Grenville Chamberlain will take the position as chair of the scrutiny committee.
“It’s the right thing to do, and we were lucky that there is a Conservative who we trust to do a good job of it,” Cllr Smith continued. “If we want the council to work it’s quite right that we have external scrutiny by people who are wanting to find where we slip up. It adds value.
“You have to do what’s right, not what’s easy.”