Cambridgeshire County Council cabinet breakers keep commitment after Martin Curtis quits as leader

29/05/13 New county council leader – Castle, Cambridge29/05/13 . Shown at Shire Hall in Cambridge is the new Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council , Martin Curtis . Picture by Warren Gunn

Announcing that he was quitting as leader of the Tories at Shire Hall, Cllr Martin Curtis warned Cambridgeshire County Council was about to become “lost in a sea of self-serving noise”.

He was talking about the abolition of the cabinet, and the handing of power to cross-party committees, which was agreed after the Conservatives lost their majority 10 months ago.

Cllr Curtis, who said on Friday that he was stepping down, warned committees would be “characterised by petty politics and infighting, with the needs of the people of Cambridgeshire coming a very poor last”.

He claimed he did not believe his skills would be suited to the “continuous stream of dogma that is going to get into the way of the direction of this council”.

But other group leaders have hit back at the Tory – and have claimed Cambridgeshire will be in safe hands under the committees.

Cllr Maurice Leeke, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “It’s a case of if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. If he is not up to the job, he has taken the right course in standing down.

“I’m sure the committees will be a great improvement. Cabinet meetings are a nonsense at the moment, you get nine middle-aged Conservative men patting each other on the back about what money they’ve saved by cutting this service or that – there’s little genuine debate.

“We’ve got a chance to move to system where other points of view are considered and the best decision for Cambridgeshire is hammered out. Martin has decided he’s not up to that consensus building and has made his own decision.”

The Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Labour and the independents argue it would be wrong for the Conservatives to keep control of the council’s direction when voters did not back a majority Conservative administration.

Cllr Paul Bullen, the UKIP leader, said: “I hope that whoever takes over from Martin will work avidly to make the committee system work because I firmly believe it’s the way forward for the people of this county. I’m 100 per cent sure Cambridgeshire will be in safe hands.

“We have 69 members and, other than the nine cabinet members, the rest of them don’t have any say in decision-making. Now we will be able to draw on the experience and expertise of every single member of this council when debating decisions and I firmly believe that, at the end of the line, we will make better decisions for the people of Cambridgeshire.”

Replacing the cabinet there will be five main committees, with membership drawn up in proportion to each group’s representation on the full council.

One would be called adults, wellbeing and health, the second would cover children and young people, the third would look after economy and environment, and the fourth would oversee highways and ‘community infrastructure’.

A fifth, general purposes committee would be responsible for setting the council’s budget.

Cllr John Hipkin, leader of the independent group, said: “I hope Martin’s decision doesn’t represent a general view amongst the Tories that they have no faith in the committee system working and that they are going to take up a destructive or purely oppositional attitude.

“If the new system is to work, everybody needs to give their best talents.

“If the Tories are going to take a negative attitude, it even more behoves the opposition groups to work together constructively and I’m very hopeful that will happen.”

In a statement announcing his resignation, Cllr Curtis said: “This has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make. But I vowed to always do the best for the people of Cambridgeshire, I do not believe my skills rest in dealing with the continuous stream of dogma that is going to get into the way of the direction of this council that the move to committees will bring. Evidence of the last few months has shown to me that this is where we are heading.

“Our councillors need to be absolutely concentrating on the people of Cambridgeshire and the challenges they face. We need to be looking after the most vulnerable, making our roads work better and ensuring people have access to jobs.

“In the last year the council has achieved billions of pounds of investment that directly benefit the people we serve. I am extremely proud of the massive strides we have taken in solving some of the major problems facing Cambridgeshire and our record stands for itself.

“But this is about to become bogged down by people more interested in grandstanding or focussing on minor issues that are better dealt with more informally than doing what is best.

“I fear that we are about to rush headlong into a committee system that will be characterised by petty politics and infighting, with the needs of the people of Cambridgeshire coming a very poor last.

“It would be easy for me to carry on as leader but I believe we are elected by the people for the people. I cannot, in all conscience, be part of that system and see the massive achievements we have made become lost in a sea of self-serving noise.

“I hope that by resigning I can make some of our opposition groups think twice about the lack of strategic focus they have shown over the last ten months and the damage that will do to a county council with a £500 million budget under the committee system.”

Leave a Reply