The Labour Party have published a manifesto for the city council: One Cambridge – Fair for All. That’s not all we’ve got to go on, we can look at what they’ve been proposing in opposition, in particular Labour’s budget amendments which they presented at the City Council’s budget setting meeting on the 27th of February 2014.
Will We Notice A Difference?
The published materials do not suggest a major change to the way Cambridge is run would occur as a result of changing the party in the majority in the Guildhall from the Liberal Democrats to Labour. As yet Labour are only proposing altering spending priorities within the existing budget.
The primary service the council provides to residents, emptying the bins, would continue in its current form.
There is no proposal to redesign the council’s services from the ground up; starting with the question of what the people of Cambridge and others with an interest in the city want from the council. Labour are approaching the prospect of running the city from a point of view of making a tweaks, to the status quo.
I would rather see a ground up re-design; including moving to one council for Greater Cambridge (something which is not in Labour’s proposals). I think the approach of tinkering with what’s already in place results in a council which is out of touch with what’s needed, and is an approach which has resulted in what we have now with projects, and officers, being bolted on every-time an idea is introduced. I would like to see every budget setting meeting presented with a full organisational chart showing how many staff the council have and what they do; along with a breakdown of the full budget showing where every penny is spent. I think officers distract councillors from more significant reforms by focusing on peripheral changes and we need to elect stronger, more visionary, councillors.
I am concerned at a Labour administration would result in a change of tone from the City Council; and a move to greater “enforcement” and “regulation” and generally more interference from the city council in the way we live in Cambridge, with the council entering areas it doesn’t need to. I’ve written separate articles on two specific areas:
- Cambridge Labour Propose Dedicated Officers to Promote Water Meters, Chesterton and the Living Wage
- Labour Policy on Regulating House Sharing in Cambridge – May 2014
Labour’s core proposal was to take £688,860 of money which was allocated to the “Keep Cambridge Moving Fund” but had not been applied to any specific projects, and use it for other purposes. Labour proposed moving £500,000 of the unallocated money to a “Sharing Prosperity Fund”. The remit of the proposed new fund is given as:
Sharing Prosperity Fund Formal Remit:
To provide resources to fund fixed-term and one-off projects and proposals that fulfil the following criteria and underpin an Anti-Poverty Strategy that Labour proposes to develop in 2014.
Proposals to the fund (which can be made through the budget process by members or officers, subject to committee consideration) must contribute towards one of the following objectives:
- Assisting (solely or predominantly) low income households or persons in:
- maximising their income
- minimising their costs
- dealing with debt and personal finances
- improving their skills, education or chance of employment
- Reducing economic inequality in Cambridge
- Ameliorate deprivation or assist low-income households in any other way
Examples of projects Labour have said could be funded by their Sharing Prosperity Fund include:
- An external Living Wage Promotion Officer to help Cambridge’s businesses, colleges and other organisations become Living Wage employers (At a cost of £39,280 for the staff member plus a budget of £14,000 for costs and publicity over two years).
- Schemes to help low-income residents with water and energy bills (£100,000 for an officer, and funding for activities, to promote the benefits of changing to a water meter)
- A programme of Youth Apprenticeships, in partnership with local colleges, which will improve our frontline services as well as help reduce youth unemployment in Cambridge. These are apprenticeships within the council at a cost of £6,300 each. £475,270 (~75 apprentices) over four years is proposed.
- Spending £16,700 more per year to make the council’s dog warden full, rather than part time, and a £5,000 advertising campaign, supporting a tougher approach to dog fouling
- Doubling the number of “public realm enforcement officers”; to tackle littering and dog mess, from 3 to 6 at a cost of £118,700 per year
- An expanded series of Environment Community Days to help residents with bulky waste disposal, at a costing of £9,000 for a year.
- Spending £7,000 more on promoting energy efficiency and insulation schemes
The proposals for this new fund show it would only have the £500,000 put one year, in 2014/15, with it being topped up by £53,910 per year thereafter. One reason for this is Labour are linking the creation of the fund to central Government’s New Homes Bonus grants, which are not assured into the future.
Labour also proposed creating a £300,000 “Fixed-Term Priority Project Fund (FPPF)”; to separate ongoing revenue spending from non-ongoing, fixed-term projects, which can be funded from sources of funding which are not assured to continue into the future, such as the New Homes Bonus.
Labour’s Proposed Savings and Ways of Getting Extra Money into the Council
Other amendments to the council budgets Labour proposed included proposals to raise/save £227,110.00 per year, after they’ve had a time to take effect. These are broken down as follows:
- Increasing charges at public toilets from 20p to 30p to raise an additional £10,000 per year
- To charge for planning advice related to listed building applications
- Increase roundabout sponsorship, raising £5,000/year
- To remove £75,460 of unspent money from the training, seminar and conference budget
- Saving £23,000/year by paying only half, not all, of a subscription to a professional body for staff members.
- By investing more in the council’s commercial portfolio Labour expect greater returns amounting to £87,000 per year
- Stopping planning decisions being made at area committees saving £3,400 per year
- Not to close Cambridge City Council’s Pest Control Service; which currently costs £54,500 per year.
- To provide funding for initial measures to make Cambridge’s city centre more accessible to the disabled, elderly and infirm. This is in the budget documents as costing £0; which must be a mistake, given it involves increasing the “accessibility officer” to a full time post.
- Build on the impact of the Mill Road Co-ordinator by expanding the concept with a new ‘Chesterton Co-ordinator’ at a cost of £45,000 over two years.
- Spending £10,000 on more promotion for both home insulation schemes and the County Council’s ‘Collective Energy Switching Scheme’ as the best immediate local option to help people obtain lower energy prices.
Additional Labour Manifesto Promises
As well as the budget proposals, the Labour manifesto adds, presumably at no extra cost, or proposing ideas which they don’t yet know how would be funded
- Assisting Credit Unions
- Setting up an official Cambridge Community Fair
- Negotiate with Cambridge University and the colleges to open up sports facilities and playing fields
- Improve welfare advice
- Support the City Deal
- Support the 20MPH limits for residential streets.
- Implement a review of grass verges
- To reform area committee meetings to give the public forum more prominence, and focus area committees around issues of public concern
- To review the possibility of webcasting planning meetings so that more residents will be able to easily view them.
- Review spending on public art
- Introduce targeted Designated Public Places Orders
- Review the Emergency Cold Weather Protocol, which gives shelter to rough sleepers in freezing temperatures.
Housing, rightly, is a substantial element of the Labour manifesto. Their promise:
- To build new council houses; looking at council owned land eg. garage sites with potential to be built on and committing to keep the council as the social landlord when the homes are built.
- To ‘demolish and rebuild’ existing sites only as a last resort. Cancelling projects underway at Lichfield Road and Campkin Road
- Not to accept commuted sums in lieu of affordable house-building in new private sector housing developments of more than 10 dwellings, and to continue to commit to the target of at least 40% affordable housing, aiming for 75% of that to be rented.
Managing Council Housing
Labour’s proposals for managing council housing include:
- To consider options for reducing rents.
- A substantial increase in the fencing repair budget
- A review of council spending on the external environment, including doors, communal stairwells and footpaths.
- Consideration of starting a small repairs service.
- More repair apprentices.
- A promise no City Council tenant will be evicted soley because of the “bedroom tax”, and to “see if it is possible in some cases to alter the designation of bedrooms to mitigate the impact of the policy.”
My Views, Thoughts and Questions
I have commented separately on the proposals for new campaigning, and enforcement, council officers and on the proposals related to regulating house sharing.
Many of Labour’s proposals appear financially sensible, and are the kind of thing I would expect Cambridge Conservatives to propose including:
- The creation of the Fixed-Term Priority Project Fund (FPPF); to ensure spending of money raised from one-off grants is handled appropriately, and distinctly from routine spending. This is a good idea.
- Investing in the council’s property portfolio; in an effort to secure future returns.
On other points:
- What’s the deal with introducing “South Cambridgeshire District Council as partner for social housing”? This might well make sense but I would like assurances that Labour don’t plan on providing a greater fraction of social housing for Cambridge residents outside the city. Some provision outside the city is reasonable; the city boundaries are a bureaucratic artefact with no relation to modern reality, but I want to understand Labour’s strategy and approach.
- I think a manifesto needs more detail than a promise to “consider options for reducing rents” for council tenants. There needs to be an explanation of under what circumstances such a rent reduction could occur.
- I’d like to know more about what spending £6,300 on an apprenticeship place buys. Are the apprentices paid? Is the £6,300 an additional training budget on top of the usual costs associated with a particular post? I don’t want to see people being asked to work for free, or very little money, for the council because their role is termed an apprenticeship (whereas otherwise it might have been a real job).
- I don’t think “environment community days” are required. Dealing with bulky waste, ought be part of the council’s normal operations. We have teams of housing officers, rangers, and environmental officers who should be responding to problems and keeping them in check. We should never reach a point where a blitz is required, that’s a sign the council is failing with the basics.
- I oppose raising public toilet charges. I think public toilets ought be free at the point of use; and Cambridge ought be opening its toilets later. Councils should also be securing formal public access to toilets when approving new developments of eg. supermarkets, shopping centres with the operators of those premises taking on the running costs. (See: Woman Urinated on Cambridge Bowling Green As Public Toilets Are Locked in Evenings)
- The fact that the Liberal Democrats running the council were not aware of the £75,460 of unspent money from the training, seminar and conference budget shows how they’re not in control of what they council is doing. They congratulated Labour for finding the underspend, when they ought have been aware of it.
- The City Council clearly needs to keep a pest control service. The Liberal Democrats didn’t appear to understand what it was they were cutting; it appears to have been a mistake based on failure to understand. The council needs to use its powers to eradicate rats from areas of the city when they emerge, something individuals cannot do alone if all the relevant landowners don’t co-operate. If the person laying the traps or setting the poison is a council employee or not isn’t crucial, but they need to be working on behalf of the council.
- I think a Cambridge Community Fair and negotiating with Cambridge University and the colleges to open up sports facilities are brilliant ideas. As a student I tried to encourage sharing of sports and recreation facilities even between colleges (facilities are not evenly distributed). I would like to see public and lottery grants given to community organisations buying access for the wider public; often the small print of such grants do require public access but this isn’t translated into practice and the council doesn’t use its influence to encourage groups to open up to the wider public. This is an area where to-date the council has been failing; particularly in relation to the West Cambridge Sports Centre, but also when they give out small grants.
- I like the ideas for reforming area committees; focusing more on the public involvement.
- I’m concerned about Designated Public Places Orders; but a lot depends on how the police implement them. If officers use their discretion to only target those causing a problem I can see they may be of use, however if people are causing a problem then existing powers could be used. The DPPOs give police powers over those who are not doing anything which negatively affects others.
Martin Smart, the Market Ward resident who has, at the last minute, been selected as Labour’s candidate to represent King’s Hedges ward on Cambridge City Council, has written to those of us who live in the ward to say:
I am fully supportive of the aims of Cambridge Labour Party and it’s manifesto, “One Cambridge – Fair for All“.
Given an unwavering commitment to the party manifesto appears to be the entire offering proposed by Mr Smart, and some other Labour candidates around the city, it’s clearly a document worth getting to grips with.
Voting will take place from the 9th of May 2014 for those with postal votes and on the 22nd of May 2014 for those voting in person.