Sir Ed Davey compares Cambridgeshire farmgate 'scandal' to what's happening at No 10

leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey,

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, has compared Conservative “scandals” in Cambridgeshire to the recent controversies surrounding Prime Minister Boris Johnson. - Credit: Liberal Democrat Party

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey, has spoken of Conservative “scandals” in Cambridgeshire, comparing them with recent controversies surrounding Boris Johnson.

Sir Ed was due to visit Cambridgeshire last Saturday to help his party’s candidates campaign for the local elections on May 6, but the visit was cancelled after his son’s carer tested positive for Covid-19 and he had to self-isolate. 

Speaking with the Local Democracy Reporting Service via video call on April 27, Sir Ed drew comparisons between  recent “scandals” linked to Conservative prime minister Boris Johnson.. 

Sir Ed did not specify which “scandals” he was referring to but had that day condemned the Prime Minister on Twitter, saying the public “deserve to know immediately whether the Tory donor who paid for the [Number 10]  flat renovation was offered any favours from number ten in return”. 

He also called on Mr Johnson to apologise to the families who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 after reports that the Prime Minister said he would rather see “bodies pile high” than order a third lockdown. 

Mr Johnson has said he does not think any rules or laws were broken in relation to the Number 10 flat refurbishment, and insisted he paid for it himself.

He has also denied he said he would rather see “bodies piled high” than order a third lockdown. 

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Sir Ed said: “I think it is fair to say that the Conservative mayor [of Cambridgeshire] is a controversial figure. 

“In Westminster we are dealing with, shall we say, some rather worrying scandals around the Prime Minister, and I think the people of Cambridgeshire will see an echo in some of the scandals that have gone on in your area”. 

Asked which “scandals” he was referring to in Cambridgeshire, he said: “I have heard, for example, that there was an issue which is known locally as the ‘farmgate’ scandal, where a deputy leader got a tenancy for a county-owned farm and then there was an inquiry and then he resigned before the report was published.

"Also, that some taxpayer-funded jobs have gone to the mayor’s Conservative former colleagues; a Conservative police and crime commissioner resigned for inappropriate behaviour;

"And that the running costs of the combined authority have got out of control; the mayor had a £100 million for affordable housing and he has managed to lose about £45 million of it – so it’s not a great record.”

He added: “I’m told that Mayor Palmer said that the cost of mayoralty would be less than £1 million [at the last election] and they are now over £5.5 million, so he has done even better than Boris about spending money that’s not his”. 

The current mayor, Conservative James Palmer, has said it is not true to say his authority has lost £45 million in affordable housing funds.

The government has said it will not continue to fund the combined authority’s affordable housing programme “on its current basis” because “insufficient delivery progress and that the value for money being achieved is below our expectations”.

£45 million of a £100 million funding agreement has not yet been provided.

The government said it is “committed to enabling investment in schemes that will deliver further affordable housing, at pace, in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough”.

Asked if devolution is working in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Sir Ed said “not under the Tories”. 

He praised his own party’s efforts in the county.

Asked if the local government architecture created by devolution is working for Cambridgeshire he said: “Ultimately that will be for the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to know, they will be experiencing it”. 

But he said the Liberal Democrats support devolution, saying “when you try and run things from Whitehall you make big mistakes, often expensive mistakes”.

He said: “We are instinctively a party that wants to devolve power and push power down”, adding “I don’t think the current model is perfect by any stretch of the imagination”.

He advocated for the Lib Dem candidate to be Cambridgeshire’s mayor, Aidan Van de Weyer, describing him as “someone who can make a huge difference”, saying he would advance the green and economic agenda, and criticised the Tory’s record on both.

He described the mayoral election as a “two-horse race” between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.

In the 2017 mayoral election his party came second, and received 23.5 per cent in the first, the Conservatives received 38 per cent, and Labour 18.6 per cent.

Addressing the county council election, he said the Conservatives “can lose” and “don’t need to lose many seats to lose control of the council”. 

Asked if the Lib Dems would enter into a coalition arrangement on the county council with Labour if that were to happen, Sir Ed said: “The one thing you don’t do as a Liberal Democrat, because we believe in devolving power and we do what we believe, is tell Liberal Democrats in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough what to do.

"They will know the local scene better than I could ever do and it will be up to them to debate and discuss how to go forward”.

He said: “There is no doubt that we can win the mayoralty and that we could at the very least take the county council into no overall control, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that we can win majority control [on Cambridgeshire County Council..