Following the rejection of questions that residents wished to ask at the next county council meeting, the Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats have accused the leadership of the council of attempting to cover up the findings of the audit investigation into the tenancy of council-owned Manor Farm, Girton held by former Tory councillor Roger Hickford.
Brian Milnes, a Lib Dem district councillor for Sawston, which Roger Hickford used to represent on the county council, said,
“I have been following this issue with great concern for over two years. It has always astonished me that Roger Hickford was appointed to very powerful positions while he was being investigated. He was appointed to the Greater Cambridge Partnership, which controls £500 million of funds for infrastructure investment, and he sat on the Local Outbreak Engagement Board, which oversees the county-wide response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I want to ask Cllr Steve Count, the Conservative Leader of the county council, what he knew about the allegations against Roger Hickford and why he made these appointments. It is a basic principle of accountability that our council leaders have to explain their decision to the public. And the best place for that is at a council meeting. Cllr Count has not yet accounted for his actions. He should not appear to be hiding behind legal loopholes to prevent that happening.”
Cllr Brian Milnes
Geoff Seeff, a resident of St Neots and a Lib Dem candidate in the forthcoming county council elections, said,
“The Leader of the council has not yet clearly stated that the report in Manor Farm should be published. Regardless of details of what’s in the report - which we don’t yet know - I’m concerned about the principle of transparency in the way that the leadership of the council deals with these matter of great public interest.
“If Cllr Count is not willing to answer my question at a council meeting, then I put it to him now: does he or does he not agree that the report should be published? Does he adhere to the principles of openness and accountability that he signed up to when he became a councillor?
“The public has a right to expect better of our representatives. The residents of Cambridgeshire will not let the Tories who are running the county council in such a disgraceful way off the hook.”
Candidate Geoff Seeff
Liberal Democrats Lucy Nethsingha and Aidan Van de Weyer have demanded that the County Council release the audit report into the tenancy of Manor Farm, Girton, following the decision by the Cambridgeshire County Council Audit & Accounts Committee to publish only one small part of the report.
Aidan Van de Weyer, Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said,
“This sordid saga should have been coming to an end with the completion of the audit report into the tenancy of Manor Farm, Girton. Instead, the public is being kept in the dark while Tory councillors and their lawyers work out how much they can keep secret.
“Cllr Steve Count, the Tory Leader of the County Council, has said that he ‘fully accepts all the findings of the audit, and its recommendations’. Yet he refuses to support the publication of the findings and all the recommendations. It is untenable to selectively refer to parts of a secret report in this way. Cllr Count is making a blatant attempt to influence the opinion of the public before the full facts are known.”
Lucy Nethsingha, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Cambridgeshire County Council, said,
“We heard on Friday that members of the audit committee had been told that they had personal liability if they stepped out of line and published any part of the report. The council lawyers should be finding ways of enabling publication, not giving ammunition to those who want to hide this scandal.
“I call on Cllr Count to tell us his side of the story, not hide behind spurious claims of impartiality. He is the Leader. This happened on his watch. The buck stops with him.
“Cllr Count has many questions to answer. What did he know about the award of the tenancy to his Deputy Leader Roger Hickford and when? When did he learn of any of the allegations against Roger Hickford? What action did he take as Leader at the time, especially in relation to the welfare of staff? Why did Cllr Count appoint Roger Hickford to the board of the Greater Cambridge Partnership when the investigation was underway?
“If Cllr Count and Tories on the County Council continue to cover up the findings of the audit report, public confidence in the Council’s ability to act fairly and in the interest of all residents will be severely damaged.”
A group of Cambridgeshire organisations, coordinated by Cambridgeshire ACRE, are working to apply to UNESCO for Biosphere status for the Fens. They are currently going through a wide-ranging programme of public consultation on the plan.
A Biosphere is a special status awarded by UNESCO to a unique and valuable landscape. There are 701 Biospheres in the world, and they form an international network of communities that are pioneering a positive future for nature and inhabitants alike. There are seven Biospheres in the UK but none in the East of England. The Fens Biosphere would be the first lowland Biosphere in the UK, covering a large area including parts of South Cambs, East Cambs, Hunts and other districts.
At both South Cambs and East Cambs District Councils recently, the Lib Dems successfully passed motions that recognise the value of UNESCO’s designation of the Fens Biosphere. They are now calling on the other councils of the county to get behind the proposal.
Aidan Van de Weyer, Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said,
“The Cambridgeshire Fens Biosphere is a really exciting proposal that would give a huge boost to this neglected region, by bringing global recognition and support for a more sustainable economy. I’m proud that the Liberal Democrats are very supportive of this.
“The UNESCO Biosphere designation would have so many benefits. It would provide a focus for improvements to the natural environment, especially wetland habitats. It would also help the economy become more balanced and communities more resilient.
“As we come out of the current lockdown, there is a fantastic opportunity to promote the Fens as a unique domestic tourist destination, shouting about our big skies, open landscapes, diverse wildlife and beautiful historic buildings, whilst helping address two huge challenges of water management and climate change.
“To get the Biosphere designation by UNESCO, we need all councils to be working together on this. Now is the time to get real momentum behind this idea.”
This winter, numerous towns and villages across Cambridgeshire have suffered localised flooding that has caused considerable inconvenience and damage to property.
Cambridgeshire County Council has been refusing to clear gullies, ditches and brooks routinely, a new policy that has meant householders seeing their homes flooded before the council takes any action.
Worse still, Lib Dem campaigners have discovered that the council has been systematically reporting that gully maintenance work was completed when in fact no action was taken at all.
Please sign our petition calling on the county council to resume the routine maintenance and clearing of ditches and gullies, to protect thousands of homes from avoidable flooding.
Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats were very disappointed to hear the news that the Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Constabulary has proposed cuts to neighbourhood policing in the county.
The plans, announced in October, have been drawn up in an attempt to address the force’s budget deficit and help make savings of £1.7 million in 2021/22.
They include halving the number of PCSOs, removing the community safety team, closing nine enquiry offices, and introducing an appointments-based system for members of the public to speak to police officers.
The Lib Dems are concerned about the impact of such changes on grassroots policing in local communities.
Rupert Moss-Eccardt, the Lib Dem candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire, said:
"We are worried about what these proposed cost-saving changes will mean for the communities of Cambridgeshire. It is clear that halving the number of PCSOs – leaving just 40 of them to cover all of our cities, towns and villages - will make it more difficult to prevent or tackle neighbourhood crime. We will lose a highly experienced body of officers who have engaged with the communities in which they work."
"All the proposed measures, which will reduce public access to police officers as well as PCSOs, have been announced with very little detail or impact assessment. We call upon the Chief Constable to halt any changes until after a new Police and Crime Commissioner is elected next May, when there can be proper public scrutiny of the proposals."
The roundabout at Lancaster Way on the A142 in Ely could see a new crossing installed that will benefit not only pedestrians, but cyclists and horse-riders too.
At Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways & Transport Committee this morning (Tuesday 10 November), the Council’s Lib Dem highways lead Cllr Ian Manning successfully proposed that the Council ask Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority to install a ‘Pegasus’ crossing to serve the needs of all road users.
He also successfully proposed that Ely Cycling Campaign and the British Horse Society should be consulted over the design and location of the crossing.
Cllr Manning said: “This proposal is far better than the original design, and better also than the alternative the Committee was given of a pedestrian-only crossing on the east side of the roundabout. A crossing at this roundabout is very much needed, but by cyclists and riders as well as walkers. And both of those groups are calling for a crossing on the west side of the roundabout, not the east.
“That is why I asked for them to be consulted on the location of the proposed crossing, not just the design. I’m pleased that this suggestion received unanimous support.”
Cambridgeshire Lib Dems are calling on the ruling Conservative group on Cambridgeshire County Council to listen to the views of road users other than car drivers, and move the location of a pedestrian crossing on the Lancaster Way business park roundabout in Ely.
Further, given the number of equestrians in the area, the type should be a ‘Pegasus’ crossing - accommodating horse riders as well as cyclists and pedestrians.
A decision on the roundabout design is to be made at tomorrow’s (Tuesday 10th November) Highways & Transport Committee of the County Council.
Lucy Nethsingha, Lib Dem group leader at Cambridgeshire County Council, has expressed shock at the revelation that the council paid more than £200,000 to a former BBC presenter for a PR contract for its fostering services.
It was recently revealed in Cambs Times and Royston Crow that Cambridgeshire County Council paid former BBC Radio Cambridgeshire presenter Paul Stainton £216,000 for PR services to help recruit foster carers, out of a total budget of £480,000 for "a step change in the marketing, recruitment and support for foster carers in Cambridgeshire".
Lucy said: "The amount of Cambridgeshire taxpayers’ money being handed out to PS Media (Paul Stainton) in fulfilling this project has shocked me. Our in-house foster carers are crucial to the care of some of the most vulnerable children in the county. But it would now appear that a significant portion of the money intended to go towards supporting foster carers has been spent on PS Media. I am afraid there are many questions to be asked about the way in which this project was carried out."
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Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats have asked the Conservative-run County Council to make sure that none of the county’s vulnerable children go hungry this Christmas. Lib Dem-run South Cambridgeshire District Council has even offered £25,000 to help fund the provision of Free School Meals vouchers.
Lucy Nethsingha, Leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group on Cambridgeshire County Council, said, "The government is refusing to feed the most vulnerable children in our country, just as the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is becoming more severe.
"The response to the fantastic campaign by Marcus Rashford to ensure no child goes hungry has shown the strength of feeling across the country.
"Along with Liberal Democrat colleagues, I am calling on the government to make food vouchers available during school holidays throughout the pandemic to all pupils eligible for Free School Meals. As we saw during the summer, this is one of the most effective measures that the government could take.
"If the government won’t do the right thing by hungry children this Christmas, I urge Cambridgeshire County Council to step in now so that support is available.
"Other councils, including some run by Conservatives, are stepping up to help feed children. We need to see the efforts increased in Cambridgeshire."
Bridget Smith, Lib Dem Leader of South Cambs District Council, said, "This Christmas is going to be especially hard for so many of our residents due to Covid-19. At South Cambs, we are able to pledge £25,000 towards food vouchers for our most vulnerable children. This will ensure families do not have to make the harsh decision between a gift for their child and feeding them or heating their home.
"I have written to Cambridgeshire County Council to offer to help fund a Free School Meals voucher scheme for the children in our district. It is essential that we plan now to have the scheme in place well before the Christmas holidays. I look forward to discussing with Conservative councillors how we can work together to help the children of our area.
"Since the very start of the pandemic, Liberal Democrat campaigners have been working hard to support members of their communities who are struggling, by raising funds, organising food banks and cooking meals. We are continuing this through the autumn half term."
Read Bridget's letter to the County Council
Liberal Democrats on Cambridgeshire County Council have successfully persuaded the Council to investigate overruns on recent council highways projects which may have been due to poor information from utility providers.
Cllr Ian Manning (Lib Dem Highways lead member) who proposed the motion says: “With recent high-profile hold-ups on completing projects like the Fendon Road roundabout on the A1307 near Addenbrooke’s, I want to know how much of this is down to poor information on the location of underground infrastructure, and how much is down to deeper issues at the Council”.
Image by Tomasz Mikołajczyk from Pixabay