Monday 29 July 2013

Apprenticeships - Cambridgeshire Bucks the Trend

The increase in apprenticeships across Cambridgeshire against a national downward trend is a real success story for the County.

I would like to thank our businesses, colleges, and private training providers that have helped make this happen and given these young people such a good start. But I would also like to express my admiration for those young people who have taken up this opportunity.

Cambridgeshire has bucked the national trend – and exceeded its own targets; a total of 4,273 people in Cambridgeshire started an apprenticeship in the year up to April against a target of 4,000 and year on year the number of people starting an apprenticeship in the county has increased by 2.5 per cent – as opposed to a national reduction of 6 per cent.

Apprenticeships are becoming increasingly popular as employers appreciate the opportunity to have employees trained to their own specification, and individuals relish the idea of earning whilst they are learning. But it also gives that young person a great start in employment along with a national qualification. Once again Cambridgeshire is rising to the challenge.

Kings Dyke - A Right Royal Headache

Every Whittlesey resident knows that the King’s Dyke rail crossing is literally a barrier in and out of Whittlesey as well as the Fens

Which is why I am pleased to see the first phase of us solving this royal headache has finished and means over the summer we can get on to draw up detailed plans and funding for the £15 million scheme.

Also Councils from Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Rutland have agreed a £3 million investment in the project to help towards the cost. This was agreed at a meeting of the Shadow Local Transport Body with the funding coming from the Government's devolved Major Schemes Funding pot. Government are devolving £14m to the Local Transport Body to support the delivery of priority local schemes across Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Rutland and King's Dyke was one of three Cambridgeshire schemes to receive a share of the money.

For years the local Councillors of Whittlesey have been campaigning for the improvements and it has been a long term goal for the County Council. This year we, together with Fenland District Council and Whittlesey Town Council, kicked off the first phase of works to make the improvements a reality. This was the production of a feasibility study to secure the necessary funding. It concluded there is a strong economic case for a replacement bridge. I know this is something every driver who has been trapped in this purgatory of queuing knows - but we need it in black and white for the scheme funding.

The level crossing has long been an issue locally due to the downtime of the barriers and the subsequent delay caused to traffic travelling to and from Peterborough through the town. The problem is made worse in the winter months when the B1040 – an alternative route in and out of Peterborough – is closed due to flooding. Worryingly the projected increase in rail traffic along this stretch of the Ely to Peterborough line, will no doubt result in the barriers being down for even longer each hour.

What is also pleasing is the way local councils have come together to push this forward. We have all seen Councils play the blame game, especially in these times of little money – it’s not uncommon to see councils say it’s not us- it’s the Government, rail operator, landlord…or other council that need to sort it out. What we have seen with Kings Dyke, and indeed other projects around the County is a real sense of working together to move Cambridgeshire forwards.

We are here to serve the communities that elected us. Some things are difficult or impossible to achieve but others we can do and it does no one any good for us to sit on our hands and say it is someone else’s responsibility.

I look forward to seeing the opening of a bridge over King's Dyke in a few years.

The initial feasibility study can be found here.


Thursday 18 July 2013

Fenland Businessman on the A14 Upgrade

This is a quote from a Whittlesey businessman about the A14 which sets out his view on the need for an upgrade? He agreed that I could publish it as long as it was anonymised.

"...the A14 is our only route to the South and South East where the major ports are. Most of our work in the (industry type here) is accessed off the A14.

... we came out of the (name of type of industry deleted) as we couldn't cope with the delays and effects roads like the A14 has on us. You've only got to ask (another company name deleted) for their thoughts on the A14 as they're running a fleet of vehicles on it every day.

I spend a lot of time on foreign motorways and England is slacking. All our current 3 lane motorways should be 4, and all our major A roads (A605, A47 etc) should be at least dual carriage way, except the A14, this really should be 4 lanes all the way to the M11 and continuing to the M25.

People forget that goods need to be moved around, and an efficient road system is vital for a solid economy. No wonder we've lost the edge on export of manufactured goods as we can't get the merchandise to the ports, you wouldn't believe we were the leaders in the industrial revolution. I think we spent too much time putting in other countries infrastructure and forgot about our own.

I spend a lot of time stuck on the A14, I therefore believe I am suitably qualified to state that the A14 is one of the worst roads around and major investment is long overdue."





Don't need to say any more.

Sunday 14 July 2013

A14 upgrade helps ensure a positive future for Cambridgeshire

When I was recently being interviewed by BBC Radio Cambridgeshire about the A14 upgrade announcement and the possible City Deal for Greater Cambridge the presenter made the comment that it had been a good week for the County.

When I became leader these were two of the things on the top of my agenda to help deliver for Cambridgeshire. Both of these issues are real game changers for the County and, in the case of the A14, for the whole eastern region. Which is why I was pleased to hear Government’s commitment to the A14 upgrade in George Osborne’s Spending Review Speech.

The radio interview was on the day I was part of a delegation representing Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council, the Local Enterprise Partnership and the University of Cambridge, arguing our City Deal case. In a nutshell this would give us powers to keep a portion of the taxes generated locally to benefit our communities. Initially the City Deal will give us the ability to unlock the massive potential there is in the Greater Cambridge area, potential that is inhibited by the state of the transport infrastructure. If we get this sorted, we can compete with the likes of Boston, San Francisco and Bangalor and help both the Cambridgshire economy and, of course, deliver an increased tax take for the treasury. It is worth saying that in my opinion, the A14 upgrade is a critical part of unlocking the potential of Greater Cambridge.

When I took part in a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister about the City Deal, I explained to him that I felt it was right that the County Council played an active part in the City Deal (when other county Councils haven't) I explained that I saw the City Deal as a starting point and that the County would look to use any forthcoming opportunities for funding to ensure we create a ripple effect, so the Cambridge growth potential becomes whole Cambridgeshire potential. The recent announcement of £3.2m grant for an agri-tech centre for our area gives a perfect example of the sort of benefit I hope our ambition will provide for the wider County.

To the thousands of us who use the A14 on a daily basis I don’t have to outline the misery in terms of lost business and lives over the years. This over capacity road which clogs instantly and gridlocks local roads is often the reason businesses will not locate in Cambridgeshire. We were all angry when the plans were dropped and have worked hard to convince Government of the importance of improving this road.

It is a vital artery for traffic from the ports and links Cambridgeshire into the wider motorway network. A flowing and safer A14 attracts business and jobs that benefit the whole of the County. Councils now benefit financially from business growth through Business Rate retention; I would have preferred to see this £1.5 billion project paid for by Government, but Treasury and the Department for Transport have made it clear this would not happen; they told us local contributions are needed as well as some form of tolling. In truth, the fact that we will now benefit financially from the upgrade means that there is a case for us to contribute to the project - it is also the reason why many other local authorities have chosen to contribute; Councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships have come together along the length of the A14 to help provide the local funding. Indeed our local businesses recognise the importance of the A14 when the Local Enterprise Partnership voted to give £50 million towards the improvements.

The debate about the A14 at our Full Council meeting next week is likely to be the one that creates the headlines. For that reason it is important that people see all of the facts, instead of the select few that generate headlines. Here are a few things that everyone should know and which those who are opposing our contribution will not tell you:

  • The most important fact is that the A14 upgrade will save lives.
  • Tolling will generate about £300m to the cost of the scheme
  • The tolling has been modelled on a £1 contribution for cars and £2 for lorries. At that level it will cost more in drivers' time and petrol costs if they ignore the A14 and choose to rat run
  • There will always be a free local alternative to the A14 - and that alternative will be modelled to prevent rat running (i.e. with weight limits)
  • Both Cambridgeshire County Council and the wider Cambridgeshire economy will benefit by far more than the £25m we will be contributing to the upgrade.
  • The contribution is spread over 25 years with no interest applied.
  • If the cost of the A14 upgrade is more than the £1.5b estimate, our contribution will not go up. Conversely, if the cost of the scheme is brought down, our contribution will reduce proportionately.

As with all things, we need to see the details, but with a £1.5 billion investment in the A14 and the possibility of unlocking millions of pounds for the City Deal things are looking up for the Cambridgeshire economy - if these projects are successful we can anticipate significant growth, growth that will help local authorities, local people and local businesses financially.