Thursday, 16 May 2013

Lib Dems Push For Talks On Unitary Council

Cambridge Liberal Democrats are pushing for an investigation into the idea of a single council to cover the whole of the south of Cambridgeshire.

The suggestion to explore support for a unitary council to cover the entire Cambridge area will be put to the city council’s annual meeting next week by the Lib Dem group.

"A single, all-purpose council for the whole of the Cambridge area has long been an aspiration of people in the city," says Council Leader Cllr Tim Bick. "It could provide joined-up local government, straight-forward accountability and a focus on the whole of the natural economic area of the city region."

"For a long time the county council has been considered to be in the way of this. And the fear has been that attempts could instead result in a hopelessly remote countywide unitary council, which no-one but shire hall empire builders would want. But the recent county council election result may make it the right time to talk about this more objectively among neighbouring councils."

The City Council, along with South Cambridgeshire District and the County Councils, is already in negotiations with central government to obtain a 'City Deal'. This offers the potential of more infrastructure funding for Greater Cambridge provided the three councils pool some responsibilities between them.

"The City Deal process is very positive and if we get it, it would certainly be worthwhile in itself," says Cllr Bick. "But you can't help wondering while we're sitting together working on this, whether it wouldn't be better still to go the whole way and create a fully integrated council."

Cllr Bick is presenting a full programme for the next year which also emphasises delivery and planning of new homes and measures to protect the quality of life in the growing city, such as a city wide 20mph limit in residential streets and investment in purpose-built cycle parking. Mitigating the impact of welfare reforms is also to be treated as a major objective.

The Lib Dem programme also highlights the continuing need to make financial savings as the government reduces its grant support. Direction is confirmed to share services with other councils, increase income and utilise council buildings more efficiently. And a new initiative is announced to merge its Community Development and Arts & Recreation services.