S Cambs Lib Dem leader questions devolution model for Cambridgeshire for putting ‘too much power in one pair of, usually white, male hands’

Mayor James Palmer (left) and Cllr Bridget Smith, the only female member of the combined authority

Mayor James Palmer (left) and Cllr Bridget Smith, the only female member of the combined authority board, being welcomed to stage of this weekend's Lib Dem conference - Credit: Archant

A key member of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority – and the only woman member – has used the Lib Dem conference this weekend to launch a blistering and indirect attack on Mayor James Palmer.

Councillor Bridget Smith, recently elected leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, says having a “singular elected official” in charge “puts too much power in one pair of, usually white, male hands”.

Cllr Smith was warmly welcomed to the Brighton conference and received what her local party described as “as huge across the auditorium for the 30 councillors we elected out of the 45”.

The council leader said that as part of her duties she now found herself “the only woman on the board of the mayoral led Peterborough and Cambridgeshire Combined Authority.

“My four months experience has turned me into something of an expert on the highlights and lowlights of having a mayoral led combined authority”.

Referring to Lib Dem policy notes that referred to governance arrangements for combined authorities being “deeply flawed” and the mayoral model leading to “over concentration of power in a single person” she said this had been disastrous for diversity.

“This is indeed the case in my neck of the woods, and yet we still propose a directly elected mayor at the head of combined authorities,” she said.

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“The problem with singular elected officials is that it does put too much power in one pair of usually white, male hands. It creates a system which is undemocratic, opaque and potentially open to abuse.”

Cllr Smith said that in South Cambs, there was also a City Deal – which Lib Dem Councillors and Julian Huppert played a large part in creating- that was “well designed, well planned, and needs led devolution.

“But the wrong sorts of devolution, the type that is foisted on a region in an unplanned manner risks creating conflict instead of partnerships and removes freedoms to act that local government bodies have”.

Cllr Smith said that Lib Dem amendments being put forward at the conference “strive to avoid ‘make it up as you go along devolution’ where normal rules of local government do not apply and the goal posts are in perpetual motion.”

She added: “Our policies must not just be a different flavour of ‘make it up as you go along devolution’.

“Our policies must ensure a properly designed framework for devolution which works with locally led ideas and is democratic, accountable and transparent.”

Cllr Smith concluded: “Devolution by all means but not at any cost”.