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Row over committee shake-up and meeting cancellations as Cambridgeshire's new administration take control

Angry Conservatives on Cambridgeshire County Council have accused the new collaborative administration of failing to stick to its promised greater transparency and more democracy.

Following the recent elections the county council passed from Tory control to a cross-party collaboration, dubbed the "rainbow coalition" under the leadership of Lib Dem Lucy Nethsingha with Labour's Elisa Meschini as the deputy leader. The two parties' power is propped by the council's independents.

On May 14 the first full council meeting was held in which the new leadership laid down its plans for the council, including a shake up of committees, which included the amalgamation of the adult social care and health committees.

Liberal Democrat leader Coun Lucy Nethsingha, Coun Elisa Meschini, leader of the Labour group, and Coun Tom Sanderson, have taken control of Cambridgeshire County Council with a 'rainbow coalition'.
Liberal Democrat leader Coun Lucy Nethsingha, Coun Elisa Meschini, leader of the Labour group, and Coun Tom Sanderson, have taken control of Cambridgeshire County Council with a 'rainbow coalition'.

A move that has been blasted by the ousted Tories who described the health committee as "vital".

One disgruntled Conservative, who represents Fenland, described the decision as a retrograde step and suggested the new administration were hoping to use money provided by the Government for the health committee to help bolster the adult social care budget.

But the councillor said: "If it is a sneaky way of trying to syphon off money from the health committee, it won't work because the Government funding is ring-fenced."

However, Coun Nethsingha hit back pointing out that it is the current Conservative Government's own policy to have more joined up working between health and social care and added: "It makes sense to have a more joined up approach, and we are only doing what the Conservative Government is encouraging us to do.

"We have no intention of syphoning off money from the health committee - that is not what the change is about at all."

The new administration has also come under fire for postponing council meetings until the middle of June and for delaying essential councillor training sessions.

But Coun Nethsingha pointed out that with changes to the committees it made sense to change the training sessions, and said new dates will be sent out to councillors shortly.

She also argued that because the Government has now banned councils from holding online meetings there was no choice but to postpone.

Coun Nethsingha said:"As Shire Hall is no longer available to us and the new Alconbury headquarters are not yet ready we are technically homeless. We held the recent meeting in a hangar at Duxford, but that was expensive and so is hiring other suitable venues that are Covid compliant.

"We are disappointed that we can no long hold meetings online as it has been a very effective way of getting more people involved in local democracy and we hope going forward that we will be able to hold some of our meetings online.

"After June 21 when everything opens up fully we will be able to hold meetings in smaller venues and we will be looking to hold them around the county. It is frustrating but we have no choice at the moment."

In the meantime Coun Nethsingha has promised that Fenland will not be forgotten by the new leadership and the hope is to ensure the whole of the county gets a fair share of spending.

She said: "I am very fond of Fenland, I know the area very well and understand that people feel it has been neglected. But the truth is there are similar issues in other places such as Huntingdon and St Neots too.

"While in other places there are different problems, for instance someone in March is more likely to be able to get a mortgage and buy their own home than someone living in Shelford.

"I know pot holes is a real issue in Fenland, but they are a problem everywhere. I cycled along a road in Cambridge only the other day and it was one of the worst stretches of road I have ever seen.

"The truth is there has been underfunding across the county. Our aim is to try to do something to improve that.

"One of the main things we hope to focus on in the next four years is improving opportunities in 16 to 18 education and to raise aspirations of our young people. We will work very hard to make improvements for the whole of the county and that includes Fenland."

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