Among the “Revised Budget Items” being presented to Cambridge City Council’s Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on Monday 19 January 2009 is an entry showing the council plans to save money by removing the out of hours service it provides for responding to animals which have escaped from the city’s commons.
I was very surprised to learn the council were providing such a service in the first place. I have watched the cows on Midsummer Common escape and be returned to the common by their owner a couple of times and saw no evidence of assistance from council staff. I believe owners of animals on the commons ought make their own arrangements to ensure their livestock is looked after. I do not think this is something the rest of us, via the council, should be paying for. I fully support the council cutting this service, and would go further, cutting not only the out of hours support, but ensure that services the council provide those who graze animals on the commons are paid for primarily by those who directly benefit, and maybe profit, from the services.
Seeing details of the proposed cut has led me to wonder what support is provided during working hours, and at what cost, and is rent charged for the use of the storage space in the public toilet block on Midsummer Common which is made available to those grazing cattle? The storage space is described on the Freeland Rees Roberts Architects website which states: “A Pindar’s room had to be included for storage of the equipment and hay needed to tend the herd of cows traditionally allowed to graze on the common.”
The saving proposed is of £2500 per year. The report states:
Support to grazing animals outside of normal working hours [is to be] transferred to owners via a grazing licence agreement.
Existing arrangements require City Services’ staff to be placed on standby throughout the grazing season from April to the end of October in order to attend to animals that stray from the Commons. Changes to grazing agreements could transfer this duty to the animal owners. The number of call outs per season is approximately 20 but requires seven months of standby payments to operatives.
Another council report to the same meeting, the budget setting report, includes an entry stating:
Pinder Service (management of grazing animals). Active Communities and City Services will review the provision of the Pinder Service to deliver budget savings of £2500 without any reduction to the scope of the service offered.
It is not clear if these two entries, in two separate reports, refer to the same cut. Clearly removing the out of hours service is a reduction in the scope of the service offered. I hope this is not a sign of things to come with the council actually cutting services while at the same time insisting it is not.
When Angelika von Heimendahl, the owner of the cows on Midsummer Common, addressed an open meeting of the Friends of Midsummer Common in January 2007 she expressed her opinion that cows falling in the river was inevitable and that it was reasonable to expect the fire service to repeatedly rescue them. At the time I expressed my shock at that expectation, and suggested that before grazing her cows on the common she looked into the possibility of improving the ways for them to get out of the river.
The Cambridge City Council Act, 1985 allows the council to prescribe the procedure for the registration of commoners entitled to graze animals on the commons and to make a reasonable charge for such registration. (1,2). I would not like to see those who would like to graze cattle on the commons required to pay excessive sums for services from the City Council which they do not require.
The current charges made by the council to those exercising their grazing rights are not publicly available via the council’s website. I have therefore made a freedom of information request using the Whatdotheyknow.com website asking for them to be released . It would be useful to know the details of the current situation when commenting on the proposed changes.
I have eaten Midsummer common beef a number of times at The Free Press Pub, Prospect Row, Cambridge where it is regularly on the specials menu. I have also noticed it for sale from Andrew Northrop Butchers, Mill Road, Cambridge.
Another source of great locally reared beef in Cambridge is S S Gawthroup & Sons, 283 High Street Cottenham, who also have a regular stall on the Market Square.