Turmoil As Leader Quits at Cambs County Council

histrionics08:25 Monday 24th March 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: We’ve been discussing the news that Martin Curtis will step down as Leader of the County Council in May. He said on Friday that it was because he didn’t want to work as Leader within a committee system. Well earlier in the show the Liberal Democrat Leader Maurice Leake said if Martin couldn’t stand the heat then it was best he left the kitchen. Paul Bullen from UKIP suggested that his decision was prompted by a split within the Tory party. Some have accused him of running scared. Well councillor Martin Curtis has never been afraid to come on this show, and he’s here now. Martin, morning.
MARTIN CURTIS: Good morning Paul. A number of things that I want to clarify. First of all, I have said on a number of occasions over this last weekend, I think I even said it on Chris Mann’s show on Friday, that I believe a committee system could work,. I don’t believe it’s the best system of governance. I believe it could work.
PAUL STAINTON: Why walk away then?

MARTIN CURTIS: Because it won’t work in Cambridgeshire, unless the opposition groups start to focus on the big issues that Cambridgeshire faces.
PAUL STAINTON: They say they’re all working together Martin. You heard Paul Sales and Paul Bullen.
MARTIN CURTIS: They’re absolutely not. Right. I’ll give you a great example. They talked about a compromise over the allowances scheme. Actually first of all that is effectively members designing their own allowances scheme. I’d ask the public whether they think that’s sensible, especially when one aspect of that scheme that seems to have been designed which I will not support. I will make this plain, I have given my group a free vote on the whole allowance ..
PAUL STAINTON: What is the aspect? What is the aspect?
MARTIN CURTIS: Well the aspect is that part of the funding of that alternative scheme they’ve come up (with) includes a raid effectively on the Council’s pension schemes to fund the members of the pensions board, when the independent panel recommended that the allowance scheme funded it.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. So they’re taking money out of the pension pot to pay their own expenses. Is that what you’re saying?
MARTIN CURTIS: To pay additional .. yes. That’s exactly what it says. So let’s get straight where that is. Now the issue is .. and what I would urge people, if they’re interested in my real reasons for standing down, go to my blog. I put a number of lengthy examples on there. It’s whittleseynorth.blogspot.com.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s not that you’ve fallen out with the rest of your own party?
MARTIN CURTIS: I will tell you. I had a group meeting on Friday where I told my group of my intention to stand down. And they sat around that table, and every single one of them trying to persuade me to stay on. And in fact it got quite tearful, because they made it really really difficult. And the point I made to them is that 90% of what I’ve done over the last year on delivering for Cambridgeshire, that includes I have to say some compromise with opposition groups, 90% of what I’ve done is great. The issue is the 10%, which is about dealing with the pettiness of the opposition that I have detested.
PAUL STAINTON: Give us an example.
MARTIN CURTIS: Well I’ve given a load of examples on my blog as I said.
PAUL STAINTON: Well give me one now.
MARTIN CURTIS: I’ll give you one. Right. We’ve got a debate coming up, we’ve got a number of debates coming up at Full Council tomorrow. We’ve got one, I can pick a number but we’ve got one as an example about Addenbrookes Hospital. On the surface, and from a public perspective, it looks a really really important debate. It’s about the move of Papworth to Addenbookes. The reality underneath that, and it’s absolutely clear from going and talking to the Department of Health, is the decision to move Papworth to Addenbrookes has already happened. The reason that debate is on there is because the Liberal Democrats want, when it’s happened, to turn round and say look what we supported. That’s what that’s about. It’s not about Cambridgeshire. It’s about the Liberal Democrats.
PAUL STAINTON: Window dressing.
MARTIN CURTIS: It’s absolutely that. And when you think .. over the last year one of the other things I’ve published in my announcement, on the huge list of achievements over the last year, what we offered to the Council last May was a complete review of democratic structures in Cambridgeshire. And that review was about let’s look at what structure is right for Cambridgeshire, not, “it has to be committees”. Because there are cabinet systems where opposition groups feel engaged that involve revises to what we’ve got, where opposition groups feel engaged, where they feel involved. But you keep the momentum that cabinets create. And I’ve seen them up and down the country over the last couple of years. And that was denied to us. The answer was committees.
PAUL STAINTON: hadn’t you better to be in there though, fighting, than as some have suggested, just taking your ball home?
MARTIN CURTIS: Well we’ve said .. the notion that they’ve said about .. some of our group were saying that we need to walk away. I have to say we’ve had this debate, and we’ve had this debate and we have come to a conclusion on it. And it was absolutely not that. The reasons about this are that I don’t cope with pettiness very well, and the sort of pettiness we’re going to deal with as a councillor. There may be somebody in my group that is able to deal with it better. But it’s also about by standing down, that’s sending a message to the opposition about where they are, and what they’re doing, and the harm they’re doing. We could not, absolutely could not have got the upgrades to the A14, which is a billion and a half worth of investment in Cambridgeshire, and we could not have got the City Deal, through a committee system. That’s two billion pounds of investment for the residents that I serve that would not have happened under a committee system. Be absolutely clear about that.
PAUL STAINTON: Martin, thank you for coming on this morning, and responding to some of the accusations that were thrown at you this morning from the Libdems, the Labour Party and from UKIP. That’s Martin Curtis, still the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. But he won’t be soon enough. He’s stepping down. He says it’s due to the pettiness of other opposition councillors around the table in Shire Hall. It sounds like an interesting place to be at the moment, doesn’t it?