17:07 Tuesday 14th January 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
CHRIS MANN: The Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council is to make a personal appeal to the Prime Minister over the raw deal he feels the county gets in education. Martin Curtis is meeting David Cameron at Downing Street tomorrow. He’ll tell him that a generation of children’s education is being blighted, because Cambridgeshire is the most underfunded in the country, and it’s getting worse. Today the Council Cabinet agreed the latest budget, as part of the £149 million in savings over the next five years. And afterwards Cllr Curtis told me exclusively of his meeting with the Prime Minister, and the reasons behind it.
MARTIN CURTIS: The issues around how poorly our schools are funded is very very well rehearsed. Our revenue funding for our schools, we’re the worst local authority in the country. But actually what we’ve just found is despite Government saying that councils would no longer have to put their own money into providing new school places, what we’ve found is that having made that statement in October, Cambridgeshire County Council has lost £32 million from its capital programme from Government, 20015/16 and 2016/17. Effectively leaves us with just £4.4 million to provide new school places.
CHRIS MANN: So what are you going to do about it?
MARTIN CURTIS: Well we’re doing everything we can to try to highlight the unfairness of what’s happened. We’ve articulated that in numbers in comparing proposed growth in Cambridgeshire alongside where other councils sit, and similar councils sit, to try and highlight it. Obviously every representation we can make we’re making about that, and tomorrow night I’ve been invited to Downing Street, and it’s the one thing I want, my number one priority. What I want to say to the Prime Minister is that this needs looking at. We can’t have companies like AstraZeneca coming into Cambridgeshire, doing things Government wants us to do, and then us really struggling to find school places.
CHRIS MANN: But hang on a second Martin. You’re the Conservative Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. This is a Conservative Government that’s giving you pain.
MARTIN CURTIS: I don’t want to start getting purely party political about this, because I know you’ll agree that listeners don’t want to hear that. But actually the reality is that this has come from David Laws, who’s a LibDem Schools Minister. But absolutely right. The reality is Government have got to do and make tough decisions, and we absolutely accept that. But what we keep finding is Cambridgeshire seems to be getting the brunt of that worse than others, And we’ve got to keep making that point, that Cambridgeshire is not something .. we’re an ambitious county. And if the Government want the financial and economic benefit that comes from a successful Cambridgeshire, then they’ve got to start working with us instead of against us.
CHRIS MANN: Well I’ll repeat the question again. It’s a Conservative Government. Why are they treating Conservative-led Cambridgeshire so badly then?
MARTIN CURTIS: The exact reasons for this I don’t know. One of the reasons is I suspect the civil servants have applied a formula to this new level of funding that doesn’t work for Cambridgeshire. And we’ve had that before. And that’s what we’ve got to do, is make sure the Ministers understand that that formula that’s been applied is not right and relevant. We’re the fastest growing county in the country. And our job as councillors, you know I’ve always said my nymer one priority is to stand up for the people of Cambridgeshire. And if that means challenging Government a little bit, and challenging Ministers, I will do it. And where I can work with them I’ll work with them. That is the way we will operate. It’s Cambridgeshire first as a Cambridgeshire councillor.
CHRIS MANN: Well I’ve seen some criticisms from LibDems, the official opposition on the County Council today saying this is a legacy of previous Conservative governments’ cutbacks.
MARTIN CURTIS: Well one councillor seems to have gone back to and mentions the 1980s. And the reality is if you’re having to go back to 1980 and the 1980s to make a point in 2013, actually you’ve lost it, haven’t you?
CHRIS MANN: Have you? Hasn’t he got a point?
MARTIN CURTIS: Well no. There’s been enough opportunity. I could go back to 1997, and I remember the front page of the Cambridge News, where Tony Blair promised to sort this issue with Cambridgeshire schools funding out, and he hasn’t. The reality is there has been plenty of opportunity since the ’80s. And as I said, if your argument has to go bck to the 1980s to make a point, you haven’t got an argument basically.
CHRIS MANN: So what are the chances of this finally getting sorted, and Cambridgeshire getting what you say is a fair deal?
MARTIN CURTIS: The answer to that is I don’t know. What I do know is the Government have said they are listening. What we are going to do is provide evidence based information to Government to say you’ve got this wrong. And on top of that do the lobbying we need to do to try and get it sorted.
CHRIS MANN: Is this harming the future of our children in this county?
MARTIN CURTIS: It’s more than the future of our children. One of the things that we’re told by the companies that want to relocate in Cambridgeshire is that one of the things that they will look for is first-class education. So if we can’t provide first-clas education, we can’t demonstrate that we’re funded to provide first-class education, and funded to provide school places, they’re going to think twice. And the reality is Cambridge and Cambridgeshire is very very attractive to businesses, not just in the UK but from abroad. So yes it does harm us. And it does, it really bothers me, the complexity and the contrast between us having the nest university in thw worls, and the worst funded education in the UK. It doesn’t make sense to me, and one day somebody has got to bite the bullet and say, actually Cambridgeshire are right and we’ve got to change this. And that’s what we’re arguing for.
CHRIS MANN: Well as you know, in the last year we’ve had a succession of Cabinet Ministers here, talking about the growth of Cambridgeshire, how important it is. We’ve had the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition as well, these politicians telling us how great Cambridgeshire is. This is a real sticking point. As you’ve said, it’s been a problem, a thorn in our side, for almost twenty years. So you’re going to have to judge David Cameron’s Government on this, aren’t you?
MARTIN CURTIS: Well I think they have, but you have to judge the Government in the fact that actually they are in a very difficult position. And let’s be fair, The Government have said that as from 2015/16 they’re going to start applying a fairer funding formula to Cambridgeshire. So over a period of years we will start creeping up and moving up alongside schools funding in other areas. So we have made progress. And actually we’ve made more progress since 2010 than we did for the thirteen years before that. But the truth is we need to go further and faster is our view. And we’ll keep pushing for that. It’s my job as Leader of the County Council to push for Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: The County Council Cabinet today agreed the budget going forward, which will go now to the full meeting. It makes pretty grim reading. This is not going to be an easy year, is it?
MARTIN CURTIS: It’s not. You know we’ve had tough years before, but this is the worst that .. you know, this is the worst year we’ve faced so far. The reality is we’ve done all the easy stuff. Everything we’ve done in terms of making us more efficient, we have done. Our management structure .. and we’ve had people from outside of Cambridgeshire looking at this, said we’re so lean in terms of our management that we’re carrying risks as a result of that. So the easy stuff has been done. And yet we’ve got £149 million to find over the next five years. And that includes £38 million next year. And that basically comes about because we’re growing as a county. We have inflationary pressures to meet, and less funding from the Government. So yes, it’s very very tough. And the truth is you don’t become a councillor to make those sorts of decisions. You want to make the world better. And we are ambitious. We do have a long term vision to improve Cambridgeshire. But short term it’s very very difficult.
CHRIS MANN: So Martin, tomorrow night you’re in his lair. You’re at Downing Street. You’re amongst others meeting the Prime Minister. Just what are you going to say to him?
MARTIN CURTIS: Well I’m going to talk to him about the potential in Cambridge and Cambridgeshire, and the fact that we have got a county that .. you know we add more value per employee in the Greater Cambridge area than the City of London does. And to talk about if they want to make the most out of that, they’ve got to start investing in us, instead of fighting against us. And I do think, somewhere in the middle of this, we’ve got Ministers saying the right thing, and a Civil Service structure that seems to want to argue agaist it, because it’s a loss of power for the Civil Service. And it’s trying to reconcile that gap that we need to work on. And that’s the conversation I want to have with the Prime Minister. And in particular, I will say to him if you want a great example, look at the unfairness of our schools capital fund.
CHRIS MANN: Martin Curtis, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. Good luck in that, and thank you for joining us.
MARTIN CURTIS: Thanks very much.