Public sector cuts could herald Hunts growing pains

JUST as the private sector shows every sign of emerging from recession in Huntingdonshire, recovery could be severely compromised by the start of a long, cash-starved downturn in the public sector. And that process could seriously compromise the resumptio

JUST as the private sector shows every sign of emerging from recession in Huntingdonshire, recovery could be severely compromised by the start of a long, cash-starved downturn in the public sector.

And that process could seriously compromise the resumption of growth in the district and across the whole county, according to local authority leaders at a business meeting in Huntingdon last week.

Business leaders in the district - almost to a man and woman - backed the resumption of growth in the fastest-growing area of the country. But they also endorsed the local authorities' view that Cambridgeshire could achieve only the smallest level of growth envisaged by the East of England Regional Assembly (EERA).

That means 3,600 extra homes in Cambridgeshire a year in the 20 years up to 2031, 550 a year in Huntingdonshire. Planners are convinced that 550 is the realistically achievable maximum in an environment in which house-builders will provide only as many homes as they expect to sell at a reasonable profit, whatever the aspirations of central or local government.


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But that resumed growth could be compromised by a sharp downturn in the availability of public sector cash, as the Treasury tries to claw back some of the public money it has used to prevent reckless bankers from dragging the economy into oblivion.

Councils and other public sector organisations could face funding cuts as high as 20 per cent - though not immediately, county and district councils' chief executives stressed. Similar spending reductions across government departments could seriously compromise the delivery of the infrastructure needed to sustain the growth in homes and jobs. Innovative thinking will be needed to bridge the gap, HDC chief David Monks said.

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Former Housing Minister Sir David Trippier, who is now chairman of Cambridgeshire Horizons, the not-for-profit company set up to mastermind the supporting infrastructure, believes he has identified one way to keep the momentum going.

His view is that projects could continue on the back of publicly-owned land assets, used as vehicles to attract investment from banks with rather longer payback-horizons than the UK has become used to in recent decades.

Cambridgeshire County Council's chief executive Mark Lloyd summed up the mood of the meeting, promising to report back the views of Huntingdonshire business - which reinforced similar sentiments from Cambridge firms - to EERA.

"There is clearly a positive stance towards growing Huntingdonshire and, more widely, Cambridgeshire, sticking with current plans that feel about right. But there are lots of qualifications," he said.

"In particular, there is a vital need for more affordable housing and for the necessary infrastructure, including telecommunications [poor broadband coverage is a particular beef for rural firms in Huntingdonshire].

"We need to have an eye on the environment, in particular being mindful of building climate change into opportunities for business, and taking communities with us. We must help businesses to grow, making sure business support organisations spot those sectors that represent our future. And we need to develop the skills of young people.

"Our big concern is about thinking creatively to address the public sector funding crisis," he concluded.

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