Labour's Leader on Cambridgeshire County Council has announced that he will lead the county-wide opposition to George Osborne's devolution proposals. He has called for a special meeting of the County Council to oppose the plans.
The move comes as Cambridge City Council says it will not participate in the plans and Labour councillors in Peterborough call for a special City Council meeting also to oppose the current proposals.
Cllr Ashley Walsh, Leader of the Labour Group on Cambridgeshire County Council, said: 'George Osborne has managed to unite virtually everybody against these ridiculous devolution proposals. The business community from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership to the Chambers of Commerce do not support the plans. The public are rightly sceptical of an expensive mayor with yet another layer of local government. The only people who seem to support the plans are Tories looking to get their hands on Cambridge's business rates and to punish the city for having the temerity not to elect Tories.
'The biggest problem in Cambridgeshire is how to deal with our county's massive inequality. Cambridge needs to be allowed to grow to make the city affordable once again but the success of the south of the county needs to be shared equally with the impoverished north of the county. But the devolution proposals give us no guarantee that any of the small budget would be directed to making the county equal by giving it the housing, skills and infrastructure investment it actually needs. For the financial and democratic cost of a barmy system of a mayor and combined authority, the scraps currently being offered are just not worth it.
'These are shoddy proposals drawn up on the back of a fag packet. They have been rushed through in the space of about a month simply because George Osborne wanted something nice to announce in his sixth austerity budget. The government should go back to the drawing board and spend an appropriate amount of time building up support for a sensible and costed devolution package that will actually support the economic development of Greater Cambridge and East Anglia more generally. So far, they have totally failed.
'Labour in Cambridgeshire will fight these proposals tooth and nail. They do not represent a good deal for the city, county or region. We are calling for special meetings of Cambridge City Council, Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council to reject these terrible proposals.'
Cllr Walsh’s call will be well received at the Guildhall where councillors of all parties on Cambridge City Council have restated their opposition to the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Devolution Deal. All are convinced that the devolution housing offer will actually worsen Cambridge’s housing affordability crisis.
The Offer document includes £175,000,000 over five years for all councils in the three counties to bid into for housing, but 85% must be used for shared ownership homes and the remaining 15% able to be used for other tenures. The document also allows for the retention of some receipts from compulsory sales but the City Council has said that without the freedoms and funding flexibilities requested replacement housing would too difficult to achieve.
Councillor Kevin Price, Executive Councillor for Housing, said: "Four weeks to consider whether to sign up to the devolution deal was an almost impossible timetable. We have been clear throughout that any decision must be driven by the difference the Government's devolution deal will make to Cambridge's housing affordability crisis. That is why we took our 'housing asks' to members from all parties on the Council for agreement whilst still negotiating with government, something I don't think any other council achieved.
"The fact is that all of those asks were rejected and without them we have little ability to stem the loss of social housing of up to 850 council homes over the next five years in the City through compulsory sales and Right to Buy. The government focus remains on home ownership, be that through shared ownership or starter homes, neither of which will do much except put even greater pressure on Cambridge's already stressed housing market and cause market sale and private sector rent prices to rise still further out of reach of the majority of our residents. The government should trust us to know what is needed and give us the freedoms to make a difference."