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OPINION: ‘Let’s build on the work we have started and get it over the line’

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So, to be clear I am looking at today’s election results with my Labour party hat on and with an unsurprising expectation to look for and celebrate the positives from a Labour viewpoint.

So yes, I am absolutely delighted by the national results for the Labour Party and no more so that the good news that there is another Labour Party Mayor in Middlesborough – a town close to my heart.

But back in the real world of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority after two months of intensive local election campaigning on first impressions very little has changed.

So, what to make of these results?

Well despite significant local challenges to the local Labour team in Peterborough, the enthusiasm that shone through in their campaigning returned some fantastic established councillors and a few new faces.

Combined Authority Mayor Dr Nik Johnson out campaigning in Bretton Peterborough. Langley, Bretton, Peterborough Saturday 29 April 2023.
Picture by Terry Harris.

With the continued commitment of a fantastic parliamentary candidate in Andrew Pakes and the reminder that despite some unwelcome results, the fact that Peterborough city council remains in no overall control should act as a cautionary reminder to all that Labour is still very relevant to the community of Peterborough and we are still very much here.

Labour’s return to full on campaigning across the whole of the county is to be particularly welcomed, and this is no more important than to the communities of Fenland.

The continued challenge to all the councillors of Fenland District Council around low levels of voter turnout is a concern for all parties.

The fact that this time all seats were contested is good for local democracy and accountability for local councillors. In Fenland Labour’s vote share has much to build on but all long ambitious political journeys have to begin with small steps and Fenland has witnessed them this week.

Narrative of ‘no change’

East Cambridgeshire may have been touted nationally as a “one to watch” but like other areas of the county the banner headline follows the Cambridgeshire wide narrative of “No change”.

However, digging a bit deeper the district council remains on a knife edge and it will remain very interesting to see if this balance of power lasts the distance of a full four years. I suspect not and again with targeted and effective local campaigning in the longer term I predict that the Labour party will have an increasing influence and in the course of time may well affect the balance of power.

As a contrast to all other Cambridgeshire areas having elections, the results in the Labour stronghold of Cambridge City have shown that after many years the Labour council can proudly stand on a strong record of delivery and care for all of its communities.

Most importantly, Cambridge City remains a Labour controlled council and there is much to celebrate in that position.

Combined Authority Mayor Nic Johnson out campaigning in Bretton Peterborough. 
Saturday 29 April 2023.
Picture by Terry Harris.

However, the importance of continued listening and meaningful reflection of the needs of such a rapidly changing and growing city whilst remaining inclusive and equitable  and in tune with the Labour values the city can proudly boast.

So as the Mayor and Leader of the Combined Authority which will now be working with all these new administrations what will I be hoping for? Each constituent authority has its own specific and unique needs but at the same time the importance of us all working together with all the possibilities for greater devolution powers and access to new finances is an opportunity not to be missed.

Franchised bus service a priority

The first Mayoral priority of public transport investment, and in particular the development of a CAT (Cambridgeshire Area Transport) network and the continued drive towards a franchised bus service countywide is popular with the public and well supported by all parties.

Let’s build on the work we have already started and get it over the line.

Secondly, the need to embrace the Fens and our Fenland communities as the unique asset and investment opportunity it is, whilst addressing the historical social inequalities across our county, remains front and foremost in my mind.

 Combined Mayor Nic Johnson out campaigning in Bretton Peterborough. Saturday 29 April 2023.
Picture by Terry Harris.

Challenging such inequalities is the bedrock of Labour party policy in all areas. It has to be small steps to start but meaningful change comes with continued focus and hard work for such communities and ultimately as a long-term ambition – why not build on a campaign for UNESCO recognition of the Fens as the first East of England World Heritage site

And such ambition should not be restricted to any one area, although progress has been slow the growing and welcome recognition across the county of the richness of our culture, the arts, sports and opportunities for leisure and tourism needs now to become a real focus for the Combined Authority and represents the third Mayoral priority as we continue to work on a cultural strategy for all and work on  a long term bid as a “county of culture”.

And finally, the main reason why I came into politics.

Meeting with Anthony Browne MP for South Cambridgeshire to chat about plans for the region, including #transport and the #environment. “Great to hear how keen he is to co-operate with me on these, and other issues,” said Mayor Dr Nik Johnson.

The fourth Mayoral priority of working with all to build public policies that work across all strategies – employment, education, health, and social care – to deliver real improvements in the health – physical and mental – of all residents across the area.

So yes, the local elections may have been happening but the hard work and dedication of the officer team at the Combined Authority has continued relentlessly in the background.

Personal journey

Whilst others have been campaigning, my own personal journey and two month phased return to the Combined Authority has been a real joy as I have witnessed the final stages of an improvement and a rebirth in sense of pride, purpose and direction accompanied by a sense of innovation and revolution that is already driving real change and is ready to take off with the return to “business as normal”

So moving away from the party politics and putting my Mayoral hat square on my head I will be back at work on Tuesday, welcoming all the new leaders and members to the Combined Authority and looking forward to working together with all,  with compassion, in the spirit of meaningful cooperation, and  to deliver for all our communities.

Have a great Coronation Bank Holiday weekend .

 

(Mayor Dr Nik Johnson was elected as district councillor for St Neots East in 2018 – the first Labour councillor in the town for two decades – and sat on Huntingdonshire District council’s planning committee. On May 10 2021 HE was elected mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority)

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