Cambridgeshire is a “sleeping tiger” that could do so much better, business leaders were told at the latest Cambridge Network meeting.
Cllr Nick Clarke, leader of the county council, told the gathering at the Hauser Forum: “It is a nice county, with a nice population and a nice university (at which someone piped up ‘two universities’).”
“We are brilliant at research, but what about development – so much goes to the US, but we’ve now got Alconbury for manufacturing and there’s Peterborough.
“Cambridge is the top town for economic development, and it needs to spread so it doesn’t decay five miles outside.
“The high cost of housing has to be brought down, we have to have super-fast broadband across the county,” he said, hinting that he’d prefer not to wait for the official framework to be put in place, but to fast-track super-fast for Cambridgeshire. “I’ve a terrible fear I will be against my own government, “ he added.
The topic for the meeting was economic growth in Cambridgeshire, and it got the wide-angled lens, with Neville Reyner, chairman of the local enterprise council, also speaking, along with Ray Anderson, serial entrepreneur and currently chief executive of Bango, as well as being News Business Person of the Year.
Given his audience, Cllr Clarke started on the right note, saying he had already made it his business to reduce red tape and promised there would be even less of it before he left the post.
“Cambridgeshire is open for business,” he said. “Everyone says that, but it is a sleeping tiger and could do so much better.”
He mentioned the A14 as “the elephant in the room”, used the words “toll”, and “congestion charge”, not dismissing the former, but saying that the latter was off the agenda, and, as Ray Anderson pointed out, unless congestion charging was adopted throughout the country, it would put Cambridge at a disadvantage.
He said that the “magnificent” guided bus – magnificent because more buses had had to be ordered to cope with demand – could be stretched up to Alconbury, and with the coming of the Science Park railway station, would provide a good transport link, avoiding the city centre traffic jams.
But complacent he wasn’t: “My mobile phone drops out on the A14 at Milton – what’s going on there?”
Neville Reyner said: “There is nobody I speak to here that doesn’t have an appetite for growth, and this is not the case elsewhere in the country.”
He spoke of a new “Greater Cambridge” brand being developed to attract more inward investment, but questioned the lack of help for small local businesses following the demise of Business Link other than as an online operation: “There is nobody to help people with their business plans anymore, so what happens when small firms go to the bank?”
Ray Anderson, on the transport theme, said he would like to see Eurostar running on from King’s Cross up to Stansted and then to Cambridge. And he had an example to relate regarding broadband speeds: “We have just taken on someone from Wisbech and they can’t work from home, as many of our staff do, because the broadband up there is not good enough.”
He said the government would be better off spending £2bn improving broadband speeds rather than listening in to ordinary people online, as proposed.