Lib Dem call for action on rural crime

Rural crime has hit a seven-year high, up 12 per cent on the previous year and costing the UK £50m in 2018, a report from NFU Mutual shows. Farms and isolated rural areas are especially at risk.

Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP said: “These figures only confirm what people in rural areas have known for a long time. As government gets ever more centralised our country areas are increasingly left behind. Successive policing ministers may have forgotten the countryside but it is clear that the criminals have not. A visible presence from police that understands the needs of rural communities now has to be a priority.”

The government must fully reverse the cuts to our police and ensure our rural areas are supported in the fight against crime.

Recent planning applications

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The following planning application in the Sutton division has been published by East Cambridgeshire District Council.

Hiams Farm Chatteris Road Mepal
Double car port and store also including change to driveway.

Further information can be found on the district council’s planning pages. If you would like to respond formally to the council about any planning application, comments should be addressed to the district council and not to me.  Comments may be made

  • online using the council’s public access web page (the link above);
  • by email to;
  • or by post to the Planning Department, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE.

Recent planning applications

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The following planning applications in the Sutton division have been published by East Cambridgeshire District Council.

Site north-west of 11 Bridge Road Mepal
Bungalow, garage and new vehicular access.

Land north-east of Springfields Straight Furlong Pymoor
Residential development for 6 dwellings.

Site adjacent to 10 Pymoor Lane Pymoor
Proposed two dwellings – phased development.

Finlaggan Church Road Wentworth
Proposed first floor extension above existing dwelling/garage.

Land between 27 and 39 Sutton Road Witchford
Construction of up to 70 dwellings, together with associated public open space, landscaping, highways and drainage infrastructure works.

Ivydene Grunty Fen Road Witchford
Construction of a steel portal framed general purpose agricultural storage building, to replace open-fronted corrugated lean-to, which is to be demolished.

Further information can be found on the district council’s planning pages. If you would like to respond formally to the council about any planning application, comments should be addressed to the district council and not to me.  Comments may be made

  • online using the council’s public access web page (the link above);
  • by email to;
  • or by post to the Planning Department, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE.

County council meeting

A full county council meeting at Shire Hall today, in stifling temperatures.

Two public questions: one asking for a regular car-free day, which met with a not exactly ‘can do’ response from the Conservative council leader, and the other about the Civil War earthworks at Shire Hall. The response from the council to the second question was rather more positive: as the council was proposing to lease the Shire Hall site rather than sell it, it would remain in public ownership and therefore subject to a requirement of public access.

Plastics strategy: this was recommended from the General Purposes Committee where we’d had a reasonable discussion and suggested some changes. There was a similar outbreak of unanimity again. I made four points:

  1. We need to do this properly: no more unresearched virtue signalling, like buying ‘compostable’ cups which can’t be composted within the seven-week cycle at the waste plant and end up going to landfill (the council has now decided to dispense with providing cups altogether and we’ll just have to bring our own, which is sensible).
  2. We need to resource it sufficiently: if we need to put in drinking water refill points throughout our public buildings, that needs a budget.
  3. We need to encourage communities who are keen to do this stuff: there are Eco groups springing up all over the place, enthused predominantly by TV coverage of single-use plastics, and we need to support them.
  4. We need to face up to the difficult stuff as well as the easy stuff: ten years ago we could feel good about putting the right item in the right wheelie-bin and think that was enough. Things have got significantly more serious since then, and we need to start thinking about more challenging actions like reducing car use to cut the amount of tyre dust washing into our watercourses and into the oceans – the second largest source of marine plastic.

A Treasury Management report went through on the nod, then we were onto a series of reports from the Constitution & Ethics Committee. Most were uncontentious, but there was disquiet on both sides of the council chamber about the committee’s new Social Media Code for councillors – in my view, impractical to implement but also indefensible under human rights and freedom of speech legislation, and a block on opposition councillors doing their opposition duty. It was decided not to cross-reference the new code into the council’s constitution as the committee recommended, so we now have a breathing space in which we can consider what to do.

Next up, four motions. The first, from Labour, calling for the retention of a police station in the centre of Cambridge with 24/7 staffing, was a bit of a dog’s dinner. My group did our best to amend it into something more sensible by more accurately describing the role of the proposed new southern divisional police hub at Milton, addressing the potential benefits of co-locating the police with council community safety officers and enforcement staff, expressing more succinctly the particular policing challenges of Cambridge, and emphasising the importance of keeping police stations open in the rest of Cambridgeshire not just Cambridge. In the event, the Conservative majority group voted against it all anyway.

The second motion, also from Labour, was on the Real Living Wage. It underwent a last-minute rewrite when Labour councillors realised that all staff at the county council already receive at least the Real Living Wage. It also sought to get the council to sign up to only use contractors who also pay the Real Living Wage. My group again tried to amend it, pointing out that while the aims were laudable, the council was currently in a financial crisis and our first priority was to keep services running, and commitments to spending lots of money on raising the sums paid to social care companies and highways contractors would have to wait. Again, the majority Conservative group voted it all down.

After a half-hour lunch break, the third motion, from Liberal Democrat councillor David Jenkins, sought to find out what Mayor Palmer’s Combined Authority was doing about the review of local government which the county council had handed over to the Combined Authority to do about a year ago. The motion also sought confirmation that all the current combining of jobs, computer systems and everything else between Cambridgeshire and Peterborough wouldn’t prevent the Combined Authority suggesting local government boundaries on different lines. The Conservatives removed the request for that confirmation, and also removed the request for a timetable for the Combined Authority to complete its recommendations on a way forward. Very odd that having handed over this piece of work to the Mayor’s Combined Authority, Conservatives on the county council seem so totally uninterested in when it will be done. Meanwhile local residents are increasingly confused by the multiple layers of local government, and frustrated by the cost and duplication of it all.

The fourth motion, from Liberal Democrat councillor Graham Wilson, was withdrawn. It had raised some serious issues about the huge shortfall in funding for adult social care (£3.6 billion across England and Wales by 2025), and called for a comprehensive lobbying campaign to persuade the Government to address the matter. Instead, Conservative councillors chose to make a complete circus of the motion, amending it to cut out references to staff being constrained by lack of funds, with the Conservative leader of the council adding congratulations to himself (for achieving what, precisely?) and even suggesting it was all the fault of other parties for ‘thwarting attempts to deliver Brexit’! (Remind me which party is in Government with a majority of MPs at the moment?). We decided it was better to withdraw the motion altogether than have it turned into such a farrago of nonsense.

There were no questions for our representatives on the Combined Authority, at which point the meeting closed. It probably achieved something, but not very much.

Out of hours GP services

Since the news was leaked over the weekend about proposed changes to out of hours GP services in Ely and Doddington, my colleague Cllr Susan van de Ven and I have been pressing for answers.

And now, just as the original news was leaked, so has been the response of the Clinical Commissioning Group.

There have been errors in the reporting all round, but it now appears that Herts Urgent Care (who deliver the service) are being instructed to cease immediately their current consultation with staff on changes to the service, and that a proper plan will be put in place before further communications take place.

Some background, then. In May, the county council’s Health Committee was told: “The Out of Hospital Urgent Care (‘roundtable’) programme is due to complete its design phase in June 2019, with a view to piloting more integrated services from October 2019. In this context, funding for the LUCS [Minor Injuries Units or MIUs] pilots has been agreed for 6 months to fit in with this programme. Currently the CCG commissions A&Es; MIUs; GP Streaming in A&Es; the Ambulance Service who can ‘see & treat’, extended access for GPs, GPs to undertake minor injury treatment in their practices; GP out of hours; 111 and additional clinical support to 111. There is general agreement that with limited workforce availability this needs to be reviewed with a view to also making it clearer to patients about where to go to get advice and treatment.”

The minutes of that meeting say that members (me!) “expressed concern that the ‘roundtable’ programme pilot might result in some options being lost and people therefore may not have access to the full plethora of services. Members noted that engagement had been undertaken with Healthwatch however it was not yet the appropriate time to communicate to wider stakeholders. Further wider engagement would be undertaken over the summer once a preferred model and pilot had been agreed.”

We received no update at our meeting in July.

Then just ten days after the July Health Committee meeting, a leak of something that didn’t look like a ‘pilot’, with no ‘engagement’.  This is exactly the opposite of how to build public and stakeholder trust and confidence.

When it comes to health, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough are among the very worst-funded areas in the country. The total NHS system locally has to save £192 million mid-year this year. And locally as well as nationally, the recruitment and retention of health workers have reached crunch point. It’s a storm that has been brewing for a long time now.

It’s therefore particularly disappointing that at such a crucial stage, the Clinical Commissioning Group appears to have so completely lost control of its communications. Many residents of Cambridgeshire rely on these out of hours services, and deserve greater clarity about the plans for their future.

Small steps

Not a giant leap for mankind, but certainly a small step this morning.

At the last meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority, which I now chair, we were frustrated that the Combined Authority forward plan provided for us to comment on was five weeks out of date. The updated version was published the afternoon after we’d met in the morning. As one of the key roles of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee is to comment and ask questions on the forward plan, not having the up-to-date plan limits our ability to do our job.

At the request of the Committee, I asked the Combined Authority Board to ensure its forward plan was updated and published in time for the Committee to consider it. I’m delighted to see this morning that the latest forward plan (dated three days ago) is in our agenda pack for our Overview & Scrutiny meeting next Monday.

The (possibly temporary) collapse of East Cambs Connect

A few days ago, users of the East Cambs Connect minibus service were told of immediate and significant reductions to the previous arrangements.

  • Instead of operating 7:00AM to 7:00PM Monday to Friday, hours are reduced to 9:30AM to 4:00PM.
  • Instead of serving multiple destinations across East Cambridgeshire, journeys will only be booked to Ely and back.
  • Bookings are now being managed by ESACT instead of by the county council.
  • All passengers will have to be dial-a-ride members (criteria here). If you wish to join ESACT and use their Dial-a-Ride service you will need to call 01353 661161 and request a Membership Application Pack.

The background to the changes is complex. A long-running investigation into community transport in Cambridgeshire (including ESACT) resulted in a number of contracts, East Cambs Connect among them, being re-tendered. No bids meeting the criteria were received for the full East Cambs Connect service. Limited alternatives have therefore been put in place for part of the service.

Mayor Palmer’s Combined Authority, not the county council, is now responsible for bus subsidies. The Combined Authority agreed to put in some additional funding for six months to slightly improve the new limited offer, but this was decided very late, with the result that users were given very little notice of the changes.

The booking line has transferred to ESACT, but the old booking line will remain open for two weeks during the handover period.

Specific dedicated transport has been put in place for people travelling to day centres. In the south of the district, the dial-a-ride service continues to be provided by the Voluntary Network from Newmarket.

The new arrangements will be trialled for six months, and usage monitored before the service is re-tendered towards the end of the year.  It is hard to see what will change between now and then to trigger an improvement in services for East Cambridgeshire residents.

  • If you were previously a user of East Cambs Connect, and need to use the new more limited service, has your application to join ESACT been refused? If so, I would like to hear from you: please get in touch with me at

Underspends, overspends

A meeting of the county council’s General Purposes Committee this morning – just a few months into the year and parts of the council budget are already beginning to be reorganised.

Some of the savings the council thought it would make through shared services with other councils aren’t being realised. Costs are rising in services for children and older people particularly, but on the plus side, there’s more council tax and business rate income than expected, and money from additional government grants and a slower-than-planned laptop replacement programme. It’s not enough to fill the hole, though.

Around £7 million of the additional costs the council is experiencing will recur in future years, but only £3.3 million of the corresponding extra income and savings. So next year’s expected budget gap is getting bigger not smaller.

We approved spending on the council’s computer systems: partly because of the council’s move to Alconbury, partly due to the ever-closer integration of Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council, and partly because it’s computers and they always cost money.  If you’ve got more staff working for both councils, for good or ill, having shared data and systems and stuff in ‘the cloud’ makes sense.

We also agreed to start getting a new contract in place for the council’s banking.

My Lib Dem colleagues and I didn’t support the proposal to spend £147,000 on consultants to advise the council on its acquisitions and investment strategy – though in fact they’d already been appointed two months ago and bringing the matter to the committee after the fact did seem a little like window-dressing. The council seems a little desperate to acquire things, any things (student accommodation blocks, cinemas, supermarkets), whether they’re inherently good investments or not, to get its commercial strategy up and running and a bit of money rolling in to put into the pot for next year’s budget.

Officers requested, and were granted, £274,000 on less than entirely robust evidence, to spend on trying to reduce the costs of special educational needs placements.

We agreed a draft update to the council’s energy strategy. There’s some absolutely tremendous work going on in this team, but this update seemed a little premature, as we also agreed today to set up a five-councillor advisory group, including myself, to work with council officers on developing a climate change and environment strategy. The energy strategy will surely need to fit into this, and the work on climate change and the environment will be bound to throw up some challenges – for example, the use of huge amounts of reasonable grade arable land for solar farms when we could be using it to improve our food security.

Finally, we excluded the press and public to talk about two items in confidential session: a proposal for the council to acquire a commercial property in Cambridge; and a matter relating to the council’s waste Private Finance Initiative contract.

Citizens’ Assembly to consider Cambridge travel

Auto, Road, Jam, Park, Traffic, Pkw, Away, Drive

How do we reduce congestion, improve air quality, and provide better public transport in and around Cambridge?

That is the question the Greater Cambridge Partnership is asking, following its initial gauging of public opinion earlier this year called Choices for Better Journeys.

A group of people will come together for four days in September and October at the Greater Cambridge Citizens’ Assembly and help solve this key issue for the area. They will hear evidence, work with other participants and come up with recommendations. They will have the opportunity to meet with individuals from all walks of life who live and travel regularly within Greater Cambridge, have discussions and hear from expert speakers. Their recommendations will be presented to the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s Joint Assembly and Executive Board shortly before Christmas.

Potential members of the Citizens’ Assembly will be chosen through a ‘civic lottery’. Invitations will be posted to households in the area randomly selected from the postcode database. From those who register interest, a sample is randomly selected which resembles the local population in miniature (e.g. by age, area, ethnicity, gender and socio-economic group). 

In the meantime, there are a number of ways to get involved with the Greater Cambridge Citizens’ Assembly.

  • Now to 31 July: Calls for Evidence – suggest what evidence you think the Citizens’ Assembly should consider. This will be considered by the Advisory Group to ensure the evidence the Assembly hears is fair and balanced. The evidence survey is already online here.
  • 1 August – 31 August: Share your Travel Stories – let the organisers know your personal experiences of travel within Greater Cambridge (good and bad) and what you would like to see changed.
  • 1 August – 31 August: Apply to be an Observer – there are a limited number of spaces for members of the public to come and observe the Citizens’ Assembly in action. Parts of the Assembly will also be live streamed.

For more information about the Citizens’ Assembly, call 01223 699906 or email Further details are also available at