Accountability and Democracy
When a resident wants something fixed, like a pothole in their street, they just want ‘the Council’ to fix it, and if it isn’t fixed, they want to know who is responsible.
(Diagram credit: Smarter Cambridge Transport)
Local government in Cambridgeshire is a confusing mess. Citizens don’t understand which council does what, or even that there are multiple Councils and local bodies providing services in their area. As a result, they don’t know which elected local politician is responsible. Some bodies, such as the Greater Cambridge Partnership promote controversial policies without any directly elected members to hold accountable at all.
A single unitary authority serving each area would make it clear who is responsible for local policies, and its representatives would have a clear democratic mandate to fix problems.
Different parts of Cambridgeshire have very different problems to solve
The economies and cultures of the north and south of Cambridgeshire are very different, with different electorates. A single Combined Authority mayor with a single set of policies cannot provide coherent leadership to such a diverse area.
The different areas covered by each authority have frequently produced authorities with very different political leadership covering the same areas, with toxic clashes of approach, and decision makers divided. Cambridge has a history of decisions being made by a County Council controlled by more rural interests – and now with a County Council controlled by Councillors mostly from the south of the County, this situation has been reversed.
A set of Unitary Authorities would allow each area to have consistent and coherent leadership, and would allow politicians to develop distinct policies consistent with their political views, and tailored to be appropriate to their Unitary Authority area.
More attractive to Council Candidates and Officers
A more empowered and effective Unitary Authority with a better sense of purpose would be able to attract a wide range of Council candidates and can make it easier to attract high quality Council Officers to work in the Authority.
With potentially fewer Councillors in total, there will be more resources available to help and support Councillors e.g. to prepare for meetings, handle routine paperwork, and this should attract a wider pool of candidates.
The scale of our challenges aren’t matched by local structures
Cambridge and the surrounding area in particular has seen enormous growth pressure with an internationally significant cluster of knowledge-based industry.
The scale of the challenges posed by this – regardless of whether you see growth as something to support and encourage, or to resist and control – are not matched by the capabilities and powers of the current local authority structures. A particular challenge is consistent decision making across planning and transport decisions which is difficult when responsibility for these areas is shared across different levels of local government.
A unitary authority will be better placed to lobby national government for the money and powers needed to match the challenges. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority was designed to meet these challenges, but has failed to do so as it needs to work across the diverse geography, and deal with the other layers of government, nor has it been effective at delivery.
More Efficient Local Government
Unitary authorities provide opportunities for more efficient local government. With a smaller number of authorities in total, there could be savings on senior leadership and premises.
Services are already being merged and shared within authorities, such as shared planning services. With unitary authorities, existing partnerships could be preserved or enhanced, but without the democratic deficit of a shared service across two Councils with potentially different political leadership.
Decision making could become significantly more efficient, as currently some decisions in areas such as transport that currently need to be considered by multiple committees across authorities, could in future be considered by a single committee within a new unitary authority.
Summary of Services provided by each type of Authority