07:07 Wednesday 22 May 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL STAINTON: What a difference a day makes, doesn’t it? Yesterday morning Cambridgeshire County Council was leaderless and in no overall control. Now the Council has a Leader, and the system of governance has been turned upside down. The frontrunner for the Leader’s job, Tory Martin Curtis, was elected Leader with 32 votes, 16 more than rival candidate John Hipkin. But both the LibDems and Labour groups abstained from the vote. They did however vote on a new decision making framework. From May 2014 decisions will be made by all-party committees, rather than a Cabinet. Well Cllr Hipkin (Independent) said the public shouldn’t worry that the committee system will slow down decision making. (TAPE)
JOHN HIPKIN: If this is the way the County’s going to work over the next four years, then I think the people of Cambridgeshire can be reassured. We’ve made a number of sensible decisions. We’ve shown real cooperation between the groups. I think we’ve got on to friendly terms. There’s a good atmosphere in Shire Hall. I’m not sure how long it will last, but believe me it’s strong today.
SAMANTHA DALTON: And why did Labour and the LibDems abstain from voting for you as the Leader? Instead they chose to effectively allow the Tory Leader to come in and be voted for.
JOHN HIPKIN: Well I guess as you know in interviews of this sort one always says this, you’ll have to ask them why they did as they did. But my guess is neither of them was comfortable about forming an alliance. Particularly I think Labour members had a problem about making an administration with UKIP. And I think, if I may say so, I think some of them are more comfortable in opposition than they are for taking responsibility for government. Something which may interest your listeners, which is that UKIP voluntarily upon my request gave us two very important places on two very important committees, simply because they understood that we had a closer relationship with the communities in question that did they. Now say what you like about UKIP, but that’s what they have done. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well here to discuss it are Maurice Leeke, new Leader of the LibDems, and Phil Rodgers, a Cambridge based political blogger. Good morning gentlemen.
BOTH: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: First of all, Maurice, it all appears to be working wonderfully well so far. Everybody getting on, everybody sharing things, it’s like a beautiful vision in rainbow colours.
MAURICE LEEKE: We got off to a very good start yesterday. As you say, we agreed that we’re going to move back to the committee system of governance, and that will take effect from next year. I think that will give us a very good basis for cooperating together and taking things forward. So yes, it was a very good start yesterday.
PAUL STAINTON: However, going forward, do committees ever get anything done? Do you have to appoint a sub-committee to decide whether the committee can have sandwiches for lunch?
MAURICE LEEKE: Well there is the danger that that could happen. But this is something that we’ve got an awful lot of experience of. Committees worked very well in local government from, what, 1893 to 2000, when we were forbidden to use them. So we have the experience of doing them. In Cambridgeshire they worked very efficiently with appropriate delegations, so that we didn’t need a lot of sub-committees, most have which had long since been abolished. So I think if we follow the template that we had up until just over a decade ago, we have a very good chance of getting an effective and efficient Council going.
PAUL STAINTON: Is it fair that the Tories have the Leader and the Deputy Leader? Were you expecting some representation on there, for all of the seats you have?
MAURICE LEEKE: It is fair, under the present system, because we appoint a Leader, and then the Leader chooses his Cabinet. And if you’re going to have that model, which I’m glad that we’re not going to have for too long, it’s appropriate that you have one party that does make those decisions, but has to refer things to the Council to ensure that it doesn’t get the arrogance that you spoke about earlier that we’ve seen in previous administrations.
PAUL STAINTON: Phil. Martin Curtis, not a real surprise, being the new Leader.
PHIL RODGERS: No that’s right. John Hipkin was supported by UKIP and the Independent councillors, but LibDem and Labour decided to let Martin become the new Leader. But I think we’re going to see really a coalition of parties coming together around different issues, as things go forward. So the votes yesterday were all really about should the Conservatives have all the power. And that’s an easy issue for all the other parties to come to a single view on. But as different issues come before the Council, I think we’re going to see that we’ll see shifting coalitions of people agreeing on perhaps one way on the A14, another way on windfarms and other issues that come up.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Do you expect Fenland issues, ie the Kings Dyke Bridge, the Whittlesey Washes, do you expect them to get a bit more prevalence now?
PHIL RODGERS: It’s interesting to see how things are going to go forward. Because certainly UKIP are a bit of an unknown quantity, and they’ve suddenly gone from one or two seats before to twelve seats now. And I think perhaps some of their councillors weren’t entirely expecting to get elected. They’ve come through on a wave of people really voting on national issues. And it will be interesting to see how they meet the challenge of representing their communities.
PAUL STAINTON: Morris, what’s the point of being in opposition, if you just let the Conservatives get their way?
MAURICE LEEKE: If we were to let the Conservatives get their way on everything, the point of opposition would be to express the other views, so that people can see that there is an alternative.
PAUL STAINTON: But you abstained from the Leadership vote, didn’t you? You could have had a real input into that.
MAURICE LEEKE: I think Phil Rodgers has made the point very well. It wasn’t just a vote on the Leadership. we had the choice between a Tory Leader who we don’t really want, or if we voted for Cllr Hipkin, what he was promising was a different style of Leadership, where all parties would be involved in Cabinet. And I think Phil has hit the nail exactly on the head, by saying that the agreement that we had on the constitutional changes yesterday will soon evaporate when we get down to individual issues. So I think he is exactly right that there will be different coalitions of interests, when it comes to the different issues that come to the Council.
PAUL STAINTON: But effectively the Tories are leading the way, aren’t they, so they’ll get their own way eventually, won’t they?
MAURICE LEEKE: On those things. yes they will. And they have the largest number of seats, so it’s no great surprise that that happens. I think the change that we will see is that there’ll need to be a little bit more thought about the reasonableness of their proposals, rather than everything just getting put through on the nod of the Leader.
PAUL STAINTON: There was some advice from Steve Tierney, former councillor, saying that Martin Curtis might as well resign, because this was going to put the Council in Limbo, this committee system. It was a waste of time. You spend hours and hours just sat around, drinking coffee and talking about talking about doing something.
MAURICE LEEKE: Well he’s obviously had some of that experience of committees at some stage. But we have experience on Cambridgeshire of committees that do work. The system has been successful. And this is not a new situation that we’re in Paul. This is the third time I’ve been in a council under no overall control. And the previous two times we’ve made it work very well. And I see no reason why we can’t have the same relationship, and the same effectiveness, going forward on the new Council.
PAUL STAINTON: Well let’s hope so, for the benefit of everybody in Cambridgeshire. And let’s hope it all works, and you all get on well together, all you rainbow coalition partners.
MAURICE LEEKE: We’ve made a good start on that.
PAUL STAINTON: Well it went well yesterday. Maurice, thank you very much for coming on this morning. Maurice Leeke, Leader of the LibDem group. Phil Rodgers, Cambridge political blogger. After eight this morning we’ll speak to Mac McGuire, Deputy Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council and get his view. Steve Tierney who I mentioned as well, former County Councillor and branch chairman of Wisbech Conservatives, will be on the show as well.
08:07 Wednesday 22nd May 2013
PAUL STAINTON: Political manoeuvering, controversial voting, salmon and potatoes for lunch, and even some inappropriate button-pressing. It was an eventful day at Shire Hall yesterday, in the first meeting since May’s local elections shook the political landscape. Martin Curtis the Leader of the Tory group was elected Leader of the Council by a sixteen vote majority. But both the LibDems and labour abstained. Well Mac McGuire was reinstated as Deputy Leader of the Council, a role he held under the previous Leader Nick Clarke. Meanwhile the system of Council governance was turned upside down. Decisions will now be made by an all-party committee, rather than by Cabinet members. Well Martin Curtis the new Leader outlined his priorities to our reporter Samantha Appleby. (TAPE)
MARTIN CURTIS: We have three priorities in this council, which is to improve the health and well-being of the population of Cambridgeshire, to make sure we support vulnerable people when we need to, but also to make sure that we deliver an improved economy in Cambridgeshire. And those three things have to be our priority. They’re what we’re here to do.
SAMANTHA APPLEBY: One of your former colleagues, Cllr Steve Tierney, who lost his seat at the last election, says that it’s sad to see Cambridgeshire County Council voting its way to paralysis and atrophy. I imagine that’s in regard to the committee system. What do the rest of your party feel about bringing that in?
MARTIN CURTIS: Well people are open to new ideas and new thoughts. There is a real feeling that the committee system does get councils clogged down and bogged down into referring, sending things from one place to another, rather than focusing on delivering for Cambridgeshire. And that’s one of the things that the committee that looks at this has got to really think carefully about. It’s right to say we need more Member input, but at the same time we have to think about, OK, if that more Member input is going to slow things down, what are the mechanisms we can put in place to stop that happening. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well that’s Martin Curtis, the new Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council with our reporter Sam Appleby yesterday. And here to discuss yesterday’s events, the aforementioned Mac McGuire, Deputy Leader. Morning.
MAC MCGUIRE: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: And Steve Tierney former County Councillor, and Town Councillor in Wisbech. Morning Steve,
STEVE TIERNEY: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: So paralysis will set in in your opinion, by deciding everything through a committee system.
STEVE TIERNEY: Well that, amongst some of the other things that were decided. Yes, I do think it was a poor decision that the Council took. But, you know, it’s a new system, so if anybody can make it work then I suppose someone like Martin Curtis with his experience is the one to do it. But I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.
PAUL STAINTON: Why not?
STEVE TIERNEY: Well because the things that were said there are true. The committee system, there’s a reason why most other councils across the country, well most other significant councils, don’t run the committee system any more. And it’s because the old way of doing things didn’t work. It really did cause a .. it created a place where people could parade around on a political platform and talk a lot about stuff, but nothing actually got done.
PAUL STAINTON: Mac. Fair?
MAC MCGUIRE: I can understand where Steve’s coming from, because we do know that in many cases where committee systems have worked they have got bogged down. It slows the process up, and things get referred back and this sort of thing, and there’s so many sub-commiitees often. But at the same time, you know … For me the biggest disappointment was the way the decision was reached, rather than, here’s a committee system versus than a Cabinet system. Lat year I had all-party support for bringing in the Constitution and Ethics Committee, whose role, from the constitution point of view, was to look at that sort of thing. So a reference to the Constitution Committee, “unfettered” is the term that Martin used, you know, so that they can look at all options. But that was decided no, Cabinet system’s out. But I grew up with the Cabinet system. When I first got involved with the County Council back in ’85 we had a Cabinet system. It was only later on under the Blair Government that were forced into the position of having this Executive and the Scrutiny functions, the so-called Cabinet system.
PAUL STAINTON: But you need a Cabinet system. Don’t you need a dictatorship every now and again to get things done?
MAC MCGUIRE: Well provided that’s a benevolent dictatorship I guess yes, you do. (LAUGHS) And it speeds things up and it certainly makes decisions. But at the end of the day we are where we are, and we, the Conservatives, will certainly make sure that the committee system works to everybody’s advantage. So it involves backbenchers, it involves senior members, and we’ll just have to make sure it works. If it starts to slow business down, then even the opposition members will begin to realise that maybe this was not the right process to go for. How we achieve it, we’ve got a year in which to do it, then let’s make it work.
PAUL STAINTON: So the last system was essentially .. Nick Clarke was a businessman. Did he run the Council like a business? Did he force things through? Did he say, that’s a great idea Mac, let’s twist everybody’s arm. Get on with it. We know it’s right. Let’s get it through. was that the way he ran things?
MAC MCGUIRE: No. You didn’t force things through. You still had to go through a democratic system.
PAUL STAINTON: You know what I mean. Little nudge. Little wink.
MAC MCGUIRE: No no. Nick had his style. I was Deputy to the previous Leader. I guess I’m always going to be the bridesmaid aren’t I. (THEY LAUGH)
PAUL STAINTON: Not in that dress.
MAC MCGUIRE: And so, no. I don’t think anybody forces things through, because at the end of the day there was still the scrutiny function. And there was still the opportunity for that challenge. We introduced overview as well, which meant that things didn’t wait until after it had happened before somebody else had the chance to comment on them. We sent them to it. But, you know, both systems have got their merits. And both systems will have their disadvantages. And I’ve no doubt in the fullness of time people will come to realise. What we have to do is make it work.
PAUL STAINTON: You can make it work. You can pack the committees with Tories. You’ve got the Leader, the Deputy Leader, and you can force it all through.
MAC MCGUIRE: No we can’t. Because at the end of the day there are 32 Conservatives, there are 37 Others. And if you like the one thing that they have in common, and there aren’t many things the other 37 have in common, is their desire to see that we don’t force things through, that we don’t dominate. So no, at the end of the day it’s a democratic system. It will be interesting to see just how often they do agree with each other, and how often they fall out with each other. You can’t imagine .. a rainbow coalition? Wow! That’s not just a rainbow, that’s a really rainy day.
PAUL STAINTON: Well that’s your opinion, obviously Mac. Steve, do you think the opposition really shot themselves in the foot yesterday by abstaining from the Leadership vote? Because many people were expecting a rose garden moment, weren’t they, where perhaps Martin would walk hand in hand with Morris from the LibDems, into the bright blue yonder?
STEVE TIERNEY: No, I don’t think anyone was expecting that. One of the points I would make is that up and down the country there are councils under no overall control, including many with large Liberal Democrat contingents. But they’re not all rushing into the committee system. And you might argue that the political situation in Cambridge city is such that it changed a lot, and you might argue that those differences would have merited a change in governance, just the same arguments they made at County. But they aren’t rushing into the committee system either. So you have to then think, well what makes County so different. And I think it’s pure strategy, pure politcking, which isn’t for the best of the people who live here, but just for the best of the individual parties, and how they see their futures.
PAUL STAINTON: The thing is, people don’t care do they really, I don’t think? People listening to this won’t give two hoots who runs the Council, and how they run it, as long as you sort our local economy out, bring some jobs here, improve the A14, build a bridge over Kings Dyke. And that’s what you’re going to be judged on here isn’t it, whether you’re a committee or a Cabinet.
MAC MCGUIRE: No I do think people care. And I think the elections will show that. And I think ..
PAUL STAINTON: They don’t care about the mechanics, do they?
MAC MCGUIRE: Well they may not be aware of the mechanics. I don’t suppose many people know whether we’re running a committee system or a Cabinet system. What they do care is it’s run properly and efficiently. And why shouldn’t they expect that? They’re entitled to that. What I do think is that people,certainly within the Council Chamber yesterday, a lot of them are deluding themselves as to what the message they were getting from the Cambridgeshire people. They weren’t certainly getting the message, the Tories are a load of rubbish, kick ’em out. Now that wasn’t the message. We know why we gained seats. We gained seats from the LibDems, we gained seats from UKIP. But we suffered, the Conservative group in particular suffered as a result of national issues.
PAUL STAINTON: (UNCLEAR)
MAC MCGUIRE: .. outside of the Chamber. It may not have been apparent in the Chamber. Some of them are still living in cloud cuckoo land. But at the end of the day, people care that we actually deliver the services, as you said, and do it properly.
PAUL STAINTON: And that’s it, isn’t it? You will be judged as a Council on what you deliver. And if you don’t start delivering, if things start slowing down, people will be kicking your backsides.
MAC MCGUIRE: Absolutely. And you will have seen over the last sixteen years, people were happy that we were delivering. Because as I say we were not judged because of any failure on the part of the administration in Cambridgeshire.
PAUL STAINTON: You know Martin Curtis well Steve. Is he going to make this work?
STEVE TIERNEY: Well if anyone can, it’s Martin. I have nothing but faith in him. And I certainly hope he’s going to make it work. But I just think he’s got a massive task on his hands now, harder than anybody I’ve known recently in local elections, in local politics has had.
PAUL STAINTON: Do you think it’s a poisoned chalice?
STEVE TIERNEY: I hope not. I hope not. I hope not mostly for the people of Cambridgeshire actually. But who knows?
PAUL STAINTON: Thank you Steve. Thank you for coming on this morning. Steve Tierney and Mac McGuire.