08:07 Wednesday 4th June 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[P]AUL STAINTON: Two weeks ago now Cambridge saw Red for the first time in eighteen years. The City Council one of Ed Miliband’s gains at the local elections, there weren’t many. And today the new Labour Leader of the Council Lewis Herbert has unveiled his Masterplan for the city. Describing Cambridge’s fate as a tale of two cities, Labour has decided to wage a war on poverty, in a bid to close the gap between the rich and the poor. Lewis Herbert is with us now. Morning Lewis.
LEWIS HERBERT: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Just describe to us how you see Cambridge then.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well it’s a hugely prosperous city with great opportunities, and councils have to play their part, particularly in delivering more affordable housing and addressing congestion. Because we effectively are already gridlocked too often. But underlying that we’ve got wider issues that there are areas of the city that have been neglected, and we really do have disparity. Just to give you one statistic, the life expectancy in the poorest, or the least affluent parts of the city for men is 8.7 years lower, 10.5 years lower for women. So we have a disparity, and it’s part of the City Council’s job to share that prosperity, and ensure that we’re tackling some of the problems, including in the North and the East of the city, where we also have neglected environments.
PAUL STAINTON: So what are you going to do? Direct money to those problems and those communities?
LEWIS HERBERT: What we’re going to do is we get income from growth. We get a New Homes Bonus, some of which we need to spend on the growing areas, and people will see the rate of new housing in Trumpington or in the North West of the city. And we’ll use a lot of that to help growth, but we’ll also share that, and some of the income from extra business rates, and use that money effectively to tackle some of the issues in areas that have been neglected. A lot of the expenditure on improved community facilities and better transport is being directed solely at the areas of the city that have been growing.
PAUL STAINTON: I’m looking down the list of commitments that you’ve got here though, and it’s extensive isn’t it? It goes on and on and on and on. How are you going to afford it all?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we are going to make the Council more efficient. We’re working with what is an excellent staff.
PAUL STAINTON: Well they all say that, don’t they, new Leaders? We’re going to make this, we’re going to make that more efficient, work in a better way. Does it ever really happen though?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we do need to. We have to work with South Cambridgeshire. We often duplicate activities, and we need to integrate some of our services. We’re often serving similar roads, similar areas. There are clear opportunities.
PAUL STAINTON: So there’ll be job cuts then, will there?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well there’ll be different options. For instance, we’re setting up a cultural trust to run the Corn Exchange. We will have to look at how we deliver some of the services. Over time ..
PAUL STAINTON: Was that your idea?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we’ve inherited a couple of those projects, but we will ..
PAUL STAINTON: So no.
LEWIS HERBERT: We will be looking to do similar projects looking at community facilities in the city as well. So what we have inherited isn’t a perfect inheritance. A lot of the jobs are still in our in-tray. And so for instance we’ve got major reviews that are incomplete. We had a wasted year in terms of the Council’s budget, when there was a £2.3 million budget error a year ago. There’s a lot of work to be done. That is why we have a long list. We have a list that will see us implement a range of changes through the summer and the autumn, will see us consulting with people. But we’re not just going to jump in.
PAUL STAINTON: Have you costed all these things?
LEWIS HERBERT: Yes.
PAUL STAINTON: Because you know Labour had a reputation, doesn’t it, whether it’s true or not, and whether it’s something that you deserve or not, Labour you know has a reputation for spending money even when it’s raining, and not really worrying about the consequences.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well I think there’s clearly been a judgment made about some of the actions before. Obviously Labour in government had to deal with a financial storm. But in terms of the city ..
PAUL STAINTON: Didn’t do it very well, did they, to be fair?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we’ll just go back to Labour’s record before. Labour ran the city and was supported by residents for most of the ’80s and ’90s. And that was a period of nearly 20 years. And that was a proud record. There wasn’t any particular reason. Essentially we lost seats when Tony Blair came in, not because of the national results, but basically Labour tends to lose seats when we’re in government. So we will be prudent. We have costed the plans. We put together many of these proposals in the form of a budget amendment in February, and everything has been carefully costed, and also planned. There’ll still be improvements to the way we deliver services, where we can. And they will only come out of savings made elsewhere.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. So how much is it going to cost for all of these new jobs that you’re proposing?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we have got something like four or five jobs, and several of them are redeployments. So within our team of cleansing staff we expect to redeploy two staff to be enforcement officers. At the moment, if people look at Jesus Green or Parker’s Piece on a summer evening, they see it being trashed by various visiting groups. Huge stockpiles of glass, cans, a lot of the cost is actually because we’re spending money in the wrong place. Why should we clear up after people that are anti-social and leave a mess? We should be intervening, making them clear up the mess, and if necessary ticketing them. So some of it isn’t actually going to cost. In terms of issues like the Living Wage, we have thousands of people in this city that are still not paid enough even to afford the cost of housing here. So we’re on their side, but working with employers to seek to change their living standards.
PAUL STAINTON: So you’re going to have some new jobs. You’re going to increase hopefully the wages of many people in the city to the Living Wage. You’re going to build affordable housing. You’re doubling the fencing repairs budget. You’re reversing the previous council’s decision to shut down the pest control service. It seems like you’re spending a lot of cash.
LEWIS HERBERT: I think our net expenditure, all matched in the first four or five months, is £250,000. Now when you consider that overall the Council’s budget including housing is about £100 million, that is not a big shift. The money for the fencing, we have some really badly neglected fences. I’m sure some of your listeners live in council property and know that their fences aren’t good enough. So moving that £100,000 from another part of the housing fund is moving money to priority.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you sure your sums add up? You’ve got a history PhD researcher in charge of your finances. Are you sure?
LEWIS HERBERT: I’d like to take you back to 1981. That was when I was first a councillor. And guess what age I was. I was 25. And I was vice-chair of the Inner London Education Authority Finance Committee, which had an equivalent spend of over £1 billion. So funding all of London’s schools was partly in the hands of a 25 year old. So maybe I’m biased, but there is a huge quality in our team. Our average age has moved a massive two years lower, from 47 years to 45 years now. We have young energetic and very effective people, who’ve got a determination to get on with the task. George Owers is a first-rate person to lead on finance, and our new Chair ..
PAUL STAINTON: Does he know the value of £1? One question from Richard Taylor this morning.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well Richard’s got a particular view on some of these issues.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s a fair question, isn’t it?
LEWIS HERBERT: Of course he does. But then .. same as Richard does. Every pound ..
PAUL STAINTON: Does he know what a pint of milk costs? That’s the question.
LEWIS HERBERT: I’m certain he does. Some politicians may not have found the answer to that.
PAUL STAINTON: Including your own Leader I think.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well he stumbled a bit, but Richard Robertson, who is the Chair of Finance Committee,was in charge of the Council’s finances in the ’80s and ’90s, and is coming back. So it isn’t just one person. We are a team, and George Owers is a first-class brain, and he has put a lot of effort into the budget costings, with officers. So he can tell you what each of the different changes costs.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. How will you be judged?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we will be judged by the voters. We have annual elections.
PAUL STAINTON: What would be a success for you, is what I’m trying to say.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well if we’re in the position, coming into what will be a General Election year so it may be decided by other issues, we will be judged by have we listened to people, have the 22,000 Cambridge households we talked to recently seen a difference in the city. We will be focusing on the main services. I met with Council officers yesterday about a three-year plan that we’re putting together to build more affordable homes. So we will be judged on what results we make. People can see the city. Cambridge is a city, but it’s also a village. People can see everything we do, and we look forward to Richard Taylor and others reporting on what they think is good, and obviously what they think isn’t.
PAUL STAINTON: Well we wish you all the best Lewis. It’s a big job, and it’s your go.
LEWIS HERBERT: Thank you Paul. We will seek to serve the residents of Cambridge as best we can.
PAUL STAINTON: OK. Lewis, thank you very much. Lewis Herbert, Labour Leader of cambridge City Council. His grand plan. We touched on some of the aspects of it. It is a huge huge plan, many many facets to it. And you can see it on the Cambridge City Council website soon.