CHRIS MANN: Tonight an open letter has been written by the Leaders of the Liberal Democrat, UKIP, Labour and Independent Groups on Cambridgeshire County Council about the devolution negotiations. It’s in opposition to the plan by the Government and the Conservatives to put some devolution into our area. Let’s bring in live now the Leader of the Labour Group, Ashley Walsh, who joins me on the line. Ashley, hello.
ASHLEY WALSH: Hello Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Now you’ve already expressed your opposition on the County Council yesterday at this Full Council meeting to the deal. Why have you felt it necessary to put it in a letter today?
ASHLEY WALSH: Well what concerns the four political Groups that are not the Conservative Group is that we think that the Conservatives are going to try and use the lack of clarity that is still there in the negotiations to come forward with exactly the same deal, which we believe will still be unacceptable to the people of Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: And why is it unacceptable to you?
ASHLEY WALSH: Well the two main problems are that we think devolution should be done on a Cambridgeshire and Peterborough basis, rather than an Eastern Regional basis, and we do not think that there is sufficient support for a Regional Mayor. And I certainly don’t think it’s acceptable to the public.
CHRIS MANN: So you’re rejecting Norfolk and Suffolk. What’s wrong with them?
ASHLEY WALSH: (LAUGHS) Well actually no, I’m not rejecting Norfolk and Suffolk at all, because two weeks ago there had been for a year long, separate discussions in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and also in Norfolk and Suffolk, to devolve to each of those different bases. What changed was that George Osborne wanted to be able to open Cambridge up to those other towns for his own political reasons. So the Government for a year thought that Norfolk and Suffolk was a viable devolution proposal, and I believe it could still be now.
CHRIS MANN: Whatever you go for, you’ll be swamped though, won’t you? Look at the political colouring in Cambridgeshire. It’s mostly blue. You in the Labour Group will be an irrelevance.
ASHLEY WALSH: Well that’s why it’s a cross-party letter. The Liberal Democrat Group, UKIP, Independent and Labour, together we form a majority of councillors on the County Council. Conservative Group, in a minority, have to work with us. So we believe that we represent the majority of the County Council, and the majority view of the people of Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: So what’s the next step in all this? You’ve objected. They will come back with an offer, or will they, or is this a one-off, that perhaps you’ve torn it up for ever?
ASHLEY WALSH: Well Steve Count who is the Leader of the Conservatives, and he clearly has the best relationship and open access to George Osborne and the Conservative Government, has said that he will go back with the Chief Executive of the County Council, to renegotiate a devolution deal. And fundamentally it’s up to the Government to decide whether it wants to press ahead and try and force this scheme on us, which I don’t think will be acceptable to the people, or whether or not to come back with a more viable compromise option. Clearly devolution is the only way that we can upgrade our infrastructure and solve the housing crisis in the South of the County, but it has to be done on a consensual basis, rather than through driving a coach and horses through local democracy.
CHRIS MANN: So are you saying you’re not interested in being Mayor of the East then Ashley?
ASHLEY WALSH: (LAUGHS) I think the chances of me winning the Eastern Regional Mayoralty are not very high at all. I’d be quite happy in Shire Hall doing the job I’ve got now.
CHRIS MANN: Ashley Walsh, Leader of the Labour Group on the County Council. Thank you very much indeed.