Cambridgeshire politics in 2018 - a fair few dramas

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It’s been a tumultuous year politically and, while the national press has been dominated with Brexit, there have been a fair few dramas in local politics too.

Here is Josh Thomas’ small round-up of some of the most salacious political dramas of the last 12 months.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor James Palmer with Martin Whiteley

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor James Palmer with Martin Whiteley

Disappearing Donald

Cllr Donald Adey, who represents the Trumpington ward on Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire County councils, came in for heavy criticism by former colleagues, members of the public and opposition councillors this year when he moved 400 miles away from Cambridge to Fife in Scotland.

Cllr Adey resigned from the Lib Dems (possibly jumping before he was pushed) but has steadfastly refused to step down as a councillor.

Legally, there is nothing that can be done. Cllr Adey can continue to draw nearly £15,000 in allowances despite problems with attending meetings.

Cllr Adey claims he continues to help residents and deal with case work for his ward, saying he’ll correspond with Trumpington locals via Skype.

Even when confronted outside a full county council meeting, which he left before it had finished, Cllr Adey was unrepentant, promising not to be forced out of a seat he had been democratically elected to.

Combined authority kerfuffle

It’s been a fairly turbulent year at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. While a lot of column inches have been devoted to high profile schemes like the proposed Cambridge metro, dualling of the A10 and the University of Peterborough, the mayoral authority has also been making headlines for other reasons.

The authority was only set up in 2017, and it has been a bit of a bumpy start for our newest layer of local government. 2018 saw the combined authority run into some of the choppiest waters yet. In the summer, communities secretary James Brokenshire intervened to tell the authority and the Greater Cambridge Partnership (which is also charged with delivering sustainable growth in the region) to behave and work together after a perceived power struggle between the two organisations.

This was followed by a rap on the knuckles in the form of a letter from the Cambridgeshire Public Service Board (CPSB) on behalf of the chief executives of Cambridge City Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, Peterborough City Council, the chief constable and the chief fire officer among many others. The letter expressed some serious misgivings from these normally reserved senior figures.

Soon after, Mr Whiteley then left as chief executive in still mysterious circumstances. The authority says Mr Whiteley resigned, but received a whopping £94,500 pay out on his departure. This has been the subject of a lot of concern, but Mayor James Palmer claims the public is “not interested” in why the pay-out was awarded.

In November, the authority was rocked again when chief financial officer Karl Fenlon was sacked after giving frank opinions on the state of the funding for some of the authority’s projects. The authority is now seeking to replace Mr Fenlon. The successful candidate will be the authority’s sixth chief financial officer in only 18 months.

An independent external review is being set up to look at spending at the combined authority. Results are expected back in the new year.

Lib Dems seize South Cambridgeshire

One of the most seismic shifts in local politics this year came in May, when the Liberal Democrats seized control of South Cambridgeshire District Council. The shock win wrested control of the district from the Conservatives, who had held it for more than a decade.

The Liberal Democrats more than doubled the seats they held, taking 30 compared to the Conservatives’ 11. Some claimed the victory was a “backlash” against Brexit, which has dominated politics this year.

The shift has impacted on local government in the district, but has also had repercussions elsewhere, giving the Lib Dems a stronger voice on other bodies like the Greater Cambridge Partnership and the combined authority where South Cambs leader Bridget Smith has been outspoken with some of her criticism of how the authority is running.

The Lib Dems now face the challenge of differentiating themselves from their Conservative predecessors while running the district and responding to the concerns of voters. There has already been tension over a proposed route for a new busway (or metro line) linking Cambridge with Cambourne, with some saying they would like to see Lib Dems councillors taking a stronger stance in opposing any off-road route going via villages like Coton in the area.