As of the 1st of April 2009 the Love Cambridge Partnership took over running City Centre management from the City Council. The primary argument for establishing a new organisation was that private companies would be more willing to contribute funds to an organisation independent from local government and not subject to local government bureaucracy. Love Cambridge has a wide potential area of operation from organising events in the city centre, such as a the Christmas lights switch on, though promoting the city’s shops to city residents and beyond. The group will also take on responsibility for pedestrian signage, and will seek to influence transport policy, policing and a range of other areas.
I have been concerned about the potential loss of democratic influence, and I applied for the position of residents’ representative on the new board offering to champion openness, transparency and inclusivity from the inside. My application was rejected. Many assurances that residents will have opportunities to stay in-touch with and influence what the new organisation does were given in the run-up to the city council spinning-out the new organisation. Cllr Cantrill, speaking at a residents’ briefing at Gonville hotel on the 9th of February 2009 said that anyone who was interested would be able to join Love-Cambridge as a member.
The new Love-Cambridge website has been up for two weeks now, and there has been a membership application form available for about the last week. The membership application form, which is only available as an online-form does not enable independent individuals to join as it contains a compulsory “Organisation/company” field.
In addition to the web-form the membership page of the website states that membership is open to:
“any person, business or organisation who is interested in promoting the Objects of the Company and in the opinion of the Directors has the ability and status to contribute to the promotion of the Objects of the Company”.
This suggests that board members are to vet potential members, assessing their “ability and status”, prior to accepting them.
At Cambridge City Council’s Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on the 16th of March 2009 I asked Cllr Cantrill some questions about the new organisation. Cllr Cantrill said that it would operate to the council’s standards of openness, pointing to the fact Love Cambridge will be audited. While the council holds open public meetings Mr Sandison, the chair of the new organisation has told me that he will not be holding public meetings, they will be members only.
At that meeting I also drew attention to the fact that neither the council, or Love-Cambridge have publicly identified the representatives of various groups appointed to the board. I think doing this is critical to the operation of the organisation.
I have written to the residents’ representative, Nicola / Nikki Morrison pointing out that this restriction of the membership is disenfranchising city residents, and it is therefore firmly within her remit, as the advocate for residents to ensure it is urgently reversed. I have also, in light of her failure to reply to my previous message asking about her approach to the role and suggesting she join my calls for her identity to be publicised, asked if she is prepared to communicate with residents at all (I am wondering if she might not see that as part of her role).