MAYORAL ELECTION: Labour candidate seeks to tackle inequality as he makes his case for election
- Credit: Archant
On May 4, people across the county will vote for the first mayor of the combined authority for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. But who will get your vote?
Devolution will give Cambridgeshire a chance to “tackle the inequality and deprivation caused by poor housing and transport”, according to Labour’s mayoral candidate, Councillor Kevin Price.
Throwing his hat into the ring, the deputy leader of Cambridge City Council says he feels privileged to stand for the role, but that managing growth in the county and making room for everyone is something which needs to be addressed.
“This region is a real success story in so many ways and at the same time the gap between those who ‘have’ and those who ‘don’t have’ is widening and becoming harder to bridge,” Cllr Price told The Hunts Post.
“That’s mainly down to housing being unaffordable, poor transport links, a low wage economy and the need to improve the skills of many of our young people so they can access good jobs.
“I think the main challenge is about managing growth in a way that means we aren’t leaving people behind whether they live in Wisbech, Huntingdon or Cambridge. We aren’t doing that right now but we need to.”
The new mayor will be responsible for £600 million when they are elected – that’s £20 million a year for 30 years – as well as a £170 million grant for affordable housing.
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As well as addressing poverty and inequality, Cllr Price says he hopes to introduce strategic planning to share growth in the area and build at least 2,500 council and housing association homes.
He has plans to improve rail and bus services too by investing with Network Rail, hopes the Bus Services Bill will be enacted to tackle expensive services, and is keen to work with communities to keep decisions “as local as possible”.
Cllr Price, who is also executive councillor for housing, added: “I know how much decisions made in Westminster have failed this region.
Devolution is a chance to bring powers and funding back down to a local level and to tackle the inequality and deprivation caused by poor housing and transport.
“I was involved in the discussions on devolution right from the start, rejecting the first three-county devolution proposal which was always too large to benefit Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and then in negotiating the detail of the housing offer in the second proposal.
“I am standing for the role of mayor because I think I can bring experience and commitment to the role and because I think it needs someone who isn’t afraid to stand up to the Conservative government when policies damage local interests.”
If successful, this is something Cllr Price is keen to implement – giving councils under the combined authority a voice at Westminster and encouraging the government to commit to more investments.
At the same time though, he says it’s important not to ‘sugar-coat’ the challenges.
“Councils are raising council tax, but that’s because we have had seven years of a relentless and wrong austerity agenda from the Tory government,” he explained.
“The Revenue Support Grant was once the main source of funding for councils and will have disappeared altogether by 2019/20, and this is despite the fact that all the councils in the devolution area have seen a significant population increase and a high demographic need for services such as children in care and adult social care.
“We recently heard that education budgets per pupil are going to fall by more than six per cent by 2019 and those in further education, which will come into the combined authority remit, will be hardest hit.
“We mustn’t sugar-coat the challenges ahead for all councils in the combined authority to continue to provide core services even with an increase in council tax, and of course the responsibility for services like adult social care will remain with them, not with the combined authority.
“I think a major part of the mayor’s job will be to support them and be a loud voice at Westminster making the case for more investment at every opportunity.”
Cllr Price, who joined the Labour Party in 1985, says he is not nervous about potentially taking up the role, and that devolution is something which might help make an all-important difference.
He added: “I think what sets me apart from the other candidates is that I am just an ordinary working person who understands what it is like to struggle to pay bills and who has dealt with being made redundant several times during the Conservatives’ 18-year rule between 1979 and 1997, which is what a great many people are going through once again.”
Cllr Price says that, being a relatively rural area, car ownership in Huntingdonshire is “high than average”, but that more investment is needed for better public transport links.
“If we are to reduce dependence on the car for journeys to work or for leisure we need to invest in better public transport and better pedestrian and cycling infrastructure,” he said.
He also said this could help traffic on routes like the ring road.
“I have driven on the ring road and like all ring roads, it can be pretty daunting environment for anyone not in a car.
“If we are to encourage people out of cars we need to change that environment with plenty of safe crossing points for pedestrians and cyclists, and good cycle links between the town centre and residential areas, or facilities like Hinchingbrooke Country Park and the railway station.”