Rainbow alliance set out their stall for Cambridgeshire

Rainbow alliance sign to take over Cambridgeshire County Council

Happiness is when you come together? Power sharing trio sign historic agreement to run Cambridgeshire County Council. From left: Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem and leader elect), Cllr Tom Sanderson (Independent), and Cllr Elisa Meschini (Labour, deputy leader elect). - Credit: Harry Rutter

A significant outcome of the new rainbow alliance to run Cambridgeshire County Council will be the future of the ‘special relationship’ with Peterborough. 

Six years after Mark Lloyd left and talks begun to bring Gillian Beasley across to become joint chief executive of both authorities, doubts have been cast over future arrangements.  

Seven of the eight senior directors – excluding the chief executive – are shared posts with Peterborough but change is afoot. 

 Cllr Elisa Meschini (Labour, deputy leader elect). 

Cllr Elisa Meschini (Labour, deputy leader elect). - Credit: Harry Rutter

“A moratorium will be placed on any new senior (director level and above) appointments shared with Peterborough,” says the alliance.  

“All new senior appointments will be made for Cambridgeshire County Council only.” 


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Another key commitment is the belief that “the council must act openly and transparently in order to maintain the confidence of the public”.  

The alliance says it will “work with officers to publish the long-awaited ‘farmgate’ report to the greatest possible extent, and as soon as possible”. 

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The guiding principles are included in the two-year power sharing agreement signed at Shire Hall on Friday.  

“Our joint administration will come to power after years of Government cuts,” it says. 

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem) preparing to take over as leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. 

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem) preparing to take over as leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. - Credit: Harry Rutter

“These have left our vital services chronically under-funded compared to the needs of the people we seek to serve.  

“We will champion Cambridgeshire’s case to receive adequate funding to deliver our services and to utilise all options available to us to invest in our services and our people.” 

The agreement also covers dispute resolution and a commitment to ‘act in good faith’ at all times.  

Cllr Tom Sanderson (Independent)

Happiness is when you come together? Power sharing trio signed historic agreement to run Cambridgeshire County Council. Cllr Tom Sanderson (Independent) - Credit: Harry Rutter

“Where there is genuine disagreement, expression of alternative viewpoints is accepted, without compromising the principles of this agreement,” says the 2,300-word document. 

They have signed up to “maintain constructive dialogue, to be open to alternative views, to be open and inclusive in sharing information with each other and to ensure ‘no surprises’”. 

Unveiled on the steps of Shire Hall, Cambridge, it was revealed it had been formulated by a team of five.  

These were Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, Cllr Lorna Dupre (both Lib Dem), Cllr Elisa Meschini, Cllr Richard Howitt (both Labour) and Cllr Tom Sanderson (Independent). 

“The Liberal Democrat, Labour, and Independent groups believe we have a duty to change the direction of the council to reflect that vote, and to work towards a greener, fairer, and more caring Cambridgeshire,” said the team.  

“Our key priorities for the term of this council must be Covid recovery, for individuals and communities, and tackling the climate emergency.” 

 Cllr Richard Howitt

Cllr Richard Howitt (Lab) a former MEP, now Cambridgeshire County Council and one of the architects of the rainbow alliance. - Credit: Harry Rutter

Effectively the coalition has brought together five partner groups since there are two independent councillors, and two from the St Neots Independent Group. 

Of the 61 council seats, Conservatives with 28 remain the largest party but control now passes to the new alliance.  

Liberal Democrats have 20 seats, Labour 9, and with the four independents it gives them a combined strength of 33 to 28, sufficient to take control

.  

The new council chair will be an independent, with Lib Dems providing the vice chair.  

Cllr Elisa Meschini (Lab) signing the alliance agreement to run the county council.

Cllr Elisa Meschini (Lab) signing the alliance agreement to run the county council. - Credit: Harry Rutter

Only one role will be offered to the Conservatives – that of vice chair of the audit and accounts committee.  

Climate change is a priority, too, for the alliance as they review the council’s sustainability strategy. 

They express the aim “of moving forward the Net Zero target for Cambridgeshire County Council towards 2030.  

“All spending and investment decisions will be made in the context of meeting the Net Zero strategy. 

“Social and environmental criteria will be given equal weight to financial criteria in all contracting. 

An “anti-poverty strategy” is pledged and on a practical level the alliance wants “more of the council’s budget to be managed locally”.  

And that could mean greater spending powers brought down to as far as parish councils. 

rainbow alliance signs on the dotted line

Unveiled on the steps of Shire Hall, Cambridge, it was revealed a power sharing agreement had been formulated by a team of five. These were Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (above), Cllr Lorna Dupre (both Lib Dem), Cllr Elisa Meschini, Cllr Richard Howitt (both Labour) and Cllr Tom Sanderson (Independent). - Credit: Harry Rutter


Aidan Van de Weyer

Lib Dem Aidan Van de Weyer joins the celebrations at Shire Hall as his party enters a coalition to run the county council - Credit: Harry Rutter

Youth services and children’s centres will become “more accessible”, libraries will stay in public ownership, their services remaining free “for everyone on Universal Credit”. 

The alliance says it will campaign to keep state nursery schools open, to keep schools in local authority control, and for fair funding for Cambridgeshire schools. 

“We will maintain free school meals for eligible children during school holidays,” it says, 

“And we will work with schools and partners to widen the network of breakfast clubs in schools during term-time.  

“We recognise and are deeply concerned by the challenges for children with special educational needs to access education health and care plans. 

“We will campaign hard for all children to receive the specialist help they need within state education.” 


Independent Tom Sanderson at Shire Hall 

Independent Tom Sanderson at Shire Hall - Credit: Harry Rutter

On transport the alliance says it will invest more in road, footway, and cycleway maintenance and routine gulley clearance. 

And they will end the freeze on residents’ parking schemes. 

For those areas wanting more 20mph zones, the alliance promises these will be “more widely available, and easier to obtain”. 

The alliance also promises a “radical overhaul or replacement” of its controversial housing development company, This Land Ltd. 

Shire Hall celebrations as rainbow alliance formed

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha with (left) Cllr Lorna Dupre and right Aidan Van de Weyer. - Credit: Harry Rutter

What’s needed from This Land, or a similar vehicle, says the alliance, is “redirecting it towards building genuinely affordable housing and supported living facilities”.  

The alliance also pledges to pay the Real Living Wage for all its employees and try to ensure any contractors working for the council are signed up to the principle, too. 

The Real Living Wage Foundation’s current real living wage is £9.50 an hour outside London – compared with the legal minimum of £8.72 an hour for those aged over 25. 

The county council’s current lowest hourly rate is £9.25. 


Desk on which rainbow alliance was signed

The table at Shire Hall brought outside onto the steps for the historic signing of a rainbow alliance to run the county council. - Credit: Harry Rutter

In March the Conservatives defeated a motion by Labour to implement the Real Living Wage. 


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