Cambridge City Council debates the issue of a unitary council

Last Thursday (October 19th), Cambridge City Council debated the issue of a unitary council.

Several councillors spoke about how the current arrangements leave residents confused about which council is responsible for what services, and that now is a good time for a review of how the system works.

Councillors agreed to ask the City Council’s Leader and Chief Executive to start discussions with other authorities in the region about a less fragmented model of local government – the full text agreed is below. We’ll be watching developments with interest!

You can watch the debate here:

The text of what the City Council agreed was:

Council notes that:

  1. There is renewed public interest in how Cambridge is governed.
  2. Although many important partnership relationships are in place between this and other councils, that the current fragmentation of responsibilities and decision-making presents an unhelpful hurdle to strategic focus on the big range of issues which bind the city of Cambridge, affecting lives and livelihoods of all our residents.
  3. This fragmentation frequently leaves many of our residents confused about the location of responsibilities and accountability.
  4. Past doubts about the critical mass required to justify unitary status are being questioned again, as they were in the 1890s, after both World Wars, in the 1950s and again in the 1960s.

Council affirms that:

  1. Power should reside as close to people as is possible.
  2. For purposeful, democratic government, we should therefore consider whether a single tier council, amongst other options, framed around the urban geography of the city, is the most appropriate model of Government for our city.
  3. We support the calls currently being made for deeper devolution of powers from central government and are committed to working with the Mayor to progress those discussions, for the benefit of both Cambridge and the wider region, to ensure we can best support our communities through the cost of living, climate and biodiversity emergencies. Specifically we believe devolution in relation to single funding settlements and fiscal powers, devolved skills and adult education budgets and clearer, transport responsibilities would give power back to local communities.

In addition Council affirms:

  1. Its continued commitment to the many, complex partnership arrangements of which it is a part as the best available current means of pursuing joined-up decision-making so long as local government structure remains as it is.
  2. Its awareness that whatever model of Governance might emerge, working co-operatively and supportively with our partners and communities is essential to deliver better outcomes for our residents.
  3. That the increasing expectations of change and economic growth that face us in this area make it no longer optimal that we have less dedicated local self-government than city areas such as Peterborough, Luton, York, Bedford, Reading or Bath. In particular reference should be made to the structures in Manchester given that this city sits within a Combined Authority.
  4. Its belief that an alternative model of local government could better connect our residents to their representatives and local service providers, and facilitate joined-up decision-making, and strengthen our voice in dialogue with central government and improve the life chances, health and wellbeing, and opportunities for our residents.

Accordingly, Council asks the Leader and Chief Executive to initiate discussions with other Authorities in the region and then central Government to identify options for a less fragmented and more cohesive model of Government for Cambridge, that best serves the needs of its residents. These discussions should involve and engage with the people of the city in a meaningful way, thereby recognising the need for our governance structures to reflect the wishes of the people we serve.