Lewis Herbert on the Challenges Facing Labour on Cambridge City Council

cambridge10:18 Thursday 17th July 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[A]NDIE HARPER: How long have you been in the city? I’ve been here twenty seven years, and I have seen dramatic changes over that time as you might expect of a period of that long. But what about you?
LEWIS HERBERT: Twenty four years. I came to Cambridge out of choice. It was on a shortlist of three or four places I wanted to live in. I’d been living in New Zealand. I’d been a councillor in London, and I was an expert on recycling, so I took on the job of going from nothing to about 40% recycling at the County Council, working closely with the city. And one of the things I did then was actually to work with the different councils to create the partnerships, and actually make sure that we were all doing it together. So twenty four years. It is a special city. It looked truly magical on the day of the Tour de France, and it does have major challenges. But I think at heart what I’m hearing from people is we’ve got something so precious and so special that we build on what we’ve got.
ANDIE HARPER: Now at the time that you were elected you described Cambridge as a tale of two cities, and that part of your master plan really was to close the gap between the rich and the poor. And John in a way, he’s texted this morning, and he’s really hit the nail on the head, because he says “Question for the Labour Leader. Chesterton is often overlooked, as things done in the city centre get all the money and all the headlines. For instance, we have on-pavement parking plus bikes. We walk in fear. What will they do and no flannel.” Now he mentions specific issues there, but it does encapsulate really I think the point you were making. It is undoubtedly a tale of two cities.

LEWIS HERBERT: There is significant division. There are parts of the north of the city where life expectancy for women is ten years less than in parts of the west. So the fundamental issue is that we have these pockets of deprivation. But I think we would certainly be able to show that over the recent years that some of the money that has been spent around the city has been focused a little bit more too much on the city centre, and areas like Chesterton have been neglected. You had the blogger Richard Taylor earlier. He has got views. We’re not creating lots of new jobs, but one of the part-time roles we’re creating is a Co-ordinator for Chesterton, and part of the reason is Mitcham’s Corner is a sad mess, and it isn’t going to be sorted immediately until we get major transport investment to change it. But there are .. we have to look at the local shopping centres, and we have to look at those local areas, and we have to work out how to direct resources. The City Council is at the centre of a great big jigsaw, and we have to join the dots and the pieces, and we have to get the county and a number of other agencies to also help, so that we can improve areas. Parts of Chesteron are neglected.
ANDIE HARPER: Because inevitably when people come to Cambridge, they come to the centre of the city. They come to all the wonderful buildings and the Grand Arcade and the rest of it. They don’t come to places like John mentioned, like Chesterton and other outlying parts of the city. So It must be difficult in some ways to think, well we’re going to concentrate on that rather than the centre that everybody sees. It’s a matter of priority really, isn’t it?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well it has to work for everybody. I’d be a bit concerned that some people in the north of the city even some in the south rarely venture into the city centre. So we have to have lower cost shopping. We have to have a range of offer in the city. We have to have a feeling when people go into the centre that they’re not being affected by aggressive begging, or the evening economy doesn’t put older people off coming into what is a lovely city.
ANDIE HARPER: But how do you as a city council encourage lower cost shopping? Because there’s very little you can do is there to say, well we would like cheaper shops, cheaper stores to be here? Because it’s a market economy, whether we like it or not.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we know that part of .. there’s two parts to the city centre. So we’ve got the core city centre. We’ve got significant opportunities around the Grafton Centre. So in the next Local Plan we’re committed to radically looking at the Grafton Centre as an opportunity for development. And we will also look at the local shopping centres, because we have to make them prosperous, so that people who don’t want to get in their cars or get on their bikes or get into the city centre have got shops and opportunities locally.
ANDIE HARPER: One of the major thrusts of your manifesto was that you were going to make life more pleasant if you like for visitors to the city, and we all know what you’re talking about. There are places that it isn’t very pleasant to go. There’s litter about. You’ve just mentioned begging. How successful have you been thus far? I know it’s only a couple of months, but what have you done so far? because a lot of people would agree. Dog mess and dogs prowling around, these were the sort of things you mentioned. Have you been able to get a grip of it in the last few weeks?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well our budget amendment next week proposes a significant shift of emphasis. We spend over 32 million on cleaning. Sometimes people are just leaving us with the bill to do that. We do have to change the emphasis. We have to have a no-acceptance of the kind of trashing of our parks and some of that activity. We have to target that enforcement effort very carefully. But we do have to make sure that there’s a change of attitude to people, and when we did a Freedom of Information there’d been one littering offence in five years under the Liberal Democrats. And so we have to issue a few more litter tickets. We’re not going to lock people up and throw away the keys. We would like the remedies of them doing a bit of tidying up. But I don’t think we should be in a position of having these glorious parks and having visitors from across the world, some of whom might want to invest in the city in terms of jobs, some of whom link up with us, because we are an international city, our jobs depend on China, our jobs depend on America, we’ve got to have a better city. And part of that is just we want to spend the money differently, so we live in a a cleaner city.
ANDIE HARPER: And is it enforceable? Does that mean literally paying more and more people to walk around Parker’s Piece and Jesus Green? When I go across Parkers Piece, we often park near there and walk across, and you think people have been out there enjoying the sunshine and then they’ve just left their rubbish and their litter. How do you enforce that? Literally people going around telling them to pick it up and not to leave it?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we’ve got some CCTV. We’ve got information that we can see some of the things that are happening. But we can intelligently look at the times, including the hot weekend. We’re going into a hot Thursday and an even hotter Friday. Those are the times that we need to get our people out. So we need to get the money in the budget, which happens next Thursday. I’ve had two meetings this week, one with the police in the city. We just need to be clear about what is being enforced and what are the priorities. We already know that the police are already going to give particular attention to the parks this year. People only litter, people only do anti-social behaviour, graffiti or leave their dogs uncontrolled, if they think they can get away with it. They did under the Liberal Democrats. No-one ever followed them up.
ANDIE HARPER: You mentioned that you are going to discuss the budget next week. Hopefully money will be available for this. Does that mean it’s got to be diverted from elsewhere?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well it is moving money about. We have a finite resource. We have huge challenges. One of the other threads is that we’re working with South Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, because we have to create joint services that are more efficient. We’ve got this £6 million budget gap, so no, we are not spending any more money than previously under the Liberal Democrats. We are reallocating funds and we’re working within our means.
ANDIE HARPER: David from Cambridge has called with a question. I’ve no idea what it’s about, but let’s just have a little see what he has to say.
DAVID FROM CAMBRIDGE: Who has the greatest power in Cambridge, Cambridge City Council or the Universities?
ANDIE HARPER: There’s a question. (THEY LAUGH) Who is the most powerful body in Cambridge? Is it you, the Council, or is it, as many suspect, the Universities?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well again, I’ve met the University in the last week. The University is central to Cambridge. I think we have to start with what are the underlying bedrocks of the city. And the Universities, both of them, along with the major employers, people like Marshalls, all of the new tech companies – we wouldn’t have prosperity, we wouldn’t have the range of jobs, we wouldn’t have the income, we wouldn’t have the ability to develop without them. In terms of .. obviously it isn’t just the Universities. There’s the Colleges. We will be talking to the University. We have been talking to them about issues like living wage. Up until recently the University hasn’t been paying the living wage, which is basically a fairly basic wage which is needed for the high housing costs. So we will talk to the Universities. They will have things to say to us. We have to help the University prosper. It’s a mighty successful international institution. In China people know about Cambridge University. They don’t know about Cambridge City Council.