JAMES PALMER, CONSERVATIVE: Palmer pledges a lean, mean and trim authority

Councillor James Palmer

Councillor James Palmer - Credit: Archant

“If I say I’m going to do it, then my record suggests I’ve done it.”

That’s according to Conservative leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, Councillor James Palmer, who says his track record will put him in a good position to take up the role of mayor of the county.

Cllr Palmer, who has been leader for four years, says lessons learnt in delivering initiatives such as the Ely bypass will be, if successful, something he takes into the role.

And it is this focus on infrastructure which he is particularly keen to develop.

“Everybody who lives in Cambridgeshire knows the answer [to the biggest problem] is infrastructure,” he said.

“The most important part of the job of the new mayor is to bring forward an answer to the infrastructure problems in Cambridgeshire. Here, there’s the A14 and the issues with it and the A428. The government has put some money into those, but the links from St Neots into Cambridge are very poor transport links.

“Cambridge is horrendous to get into and out of and it affects the way that people do business and getting to and from work, and we have to sort that problem out. It’s roads and it’s rail and it’s new infrastructure and new transport solutions.”

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To solve this, Cllr Palmer says he would look at building an underground railway in Cambridge and a light rail-way across the rest of Cambridgeshire linking each area together – some-thing, he says, is essential to developing business in the county.

He said: “If I talk to Peterborough residents and Fenland residents, they would love to see the M11 expanded beyond Cambridge up to Peterborough.

“You see at the moment, if Peterborough people and businesses want to come to Cambridge, it’s easier for them to buy a train ticket to Hitchin and then come up again to Cambridge than it is to get a train to Cambridge, so we’ve got to sort out rail problems.”

He added: “We’ve got to stop thinking of Cambridgeshire versus Peterborough, it’s Cambridgeshire and Peterborough against our major international rivals which are Silicon Valley, Boston, Germany, Shanghai.

“These are our major international rivals. We’ve got to get companies to come to this part of the world.”

The new mayor will be responsible for a £600 million budget when they are elected – about £20 million a year for 30 years – as well as £170 million grant for affordable housing – something else which Cllr Palmer says an improved infrastructure will help.

“If we successfully link Fenland to the rest of the county, it takes the housing pressure off Huntingdonshire, off South Cambs, off East Cambs and off Peterborough and off Cambridge.

“Cambridge is set to grow in the next 10 years as much as it’s grown in the last 50, but it’s surrounded by a green belt and it can’t physically expand, so it prevents urban sprawl.

“I don’t want to see urban sprawl anywhere, so sharing that growth around the county is a sensible thing to do.”

As head of a new combined authority, the mayor will also be able to levy council tax, but Cllr Palmer says authorities should only go to the taxpayer “as an absolute last resort”.

“We have to make sure that councils are as leanly run as possible and the senior management team at my council costs £320,000. It’s the best value for money because it’s highly efficient,” he said.

“Councils shouldn’t necessarily be relying on taxing the public to find their own efficiencies. They should be finding their own efficiencies within their own building and acting more commercially.

“Every single council can improve, and I include East Cambs in that, and it’s a matter of continually improving and it’s a matter of being more commercially-minded but still providing the best possible service. Cutting service shouldn’t be an option and it shouldn’t be necessary.

“When I hear of council cuts it frustrates me because in most cases those cuts could be avoided. The new combined authority, if I’m mayor, will be very slender and we’ll have very few staff - under 20.”

If elected, Cllr Palmer says he will also work to roll out more apprentice-ship schemes to “fill those skills gaps”, and, alternatively, support people wanting to get a university education in Peterborough.

“I think it’s very exciting, and what a massive opportunity to change this magnificent county and make it ready for the 21st century and turn it into a world leader,” he added.

“That will be my aim: to change Cambridgeshire for the better and give everybody the opportunity to benefit.”