Letter: Donated teddies will help comfort trauma-affected children

These handmade teddies were dropped off to the team at Ely Police Station by a member of the public.

These handmade teddies were dropped off to the team at Ely Police Station by a member of the public. They will be given to children who have been involved in traumatic events and road traffic collisions. Police say "we hope they will provide some comfort for them". - Credit: POLICING EAST CAMBS FACEBOOK

An alternative view

In the interests of balance in relation to your article "Mayor 'wantonly diverted' £40m of housing cash", I would like to offer your readers an alternative view of what took place in relation to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority's (CPCA) £100m Affordable Housing Programme from someone that was involved.

The practice of Civil Servants at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) was, for months on end, to repeatedly raise new and different issues each time they met with the CPCA. 

During this time the money needed to deliver the programme was withheld, stopping the CPCA from getting on and delivering affordable houses, which was perverse, given that it was the very thing everyone said they wanted to happen!

Firstly, there was an argument about the date by when the 2,000 affordable homes must be built.  MHCLG maintained for months that the date was March 2021.

The reality - 

  • CPCA was formed in May 2017
  • The £100m Affordable Housing Fund was to be released in forward funded tranches over a period of 5 years
  • Both of these facts were confirmed by the senior MHCLG Civil Servant in December 2020 at a meeting I attended
  • Given that it would be unreasonable to expect CPCA to deliver affordable housing before it had been formed, it is clear that the date for delivery was always March 2022
  • The exact same situation with the timing also applied to the £70m Affordable Housing Programme being delivered by Cambridge City Council which has not had money withheld and was allowed to continue its programme unimpeded - make of that what you will 
  • CPCA was absolutely on track to meet the 2,000 units starts by March 2022, as is evidenced even now despite the delays, by the report being presented to the upcoming CPCA Housing Committee

Most Read

Secondly, MHCLG belatedly introduced a new argument, stating that CPCA was not delivering value for money.

The reality - 

  • CPCA split the £100m fund into two: £60m for grant (where the money is spent), £40m for loans (where the money comes back to the authority, with interest, and is available in perpetuity)
  • The £100m fund required 2,000 units to be delivered, setting an average cost of £50k per unit
  • In December 2020 the programme stood at an average delivery rate of £34k per unit 
  • Compare that with Cambridge City Council's programme (which simply spent the money, giving it all out in grants) which stood at an average of £140k per unit
  • Compare it with the Homes England average of around £45k per unit
  • 53 affordable homes being delivered from the £40m revolving loan fund were being delivered at nil cost to the tax payer, as the money is due to be returned in full
  • It is clear, that by any standards, CPCA was delivering value for money far outstripping other affordable housing delivery programmes

There is nothing "wanton" about protecting tax payers' cash and using it carefully and innovatively, in this case ensuring the £40m was available in perpetuity, to be recycled again and again. 

This did not stop the CPCA from being on track to meet its 2,000 units target - CPCA was, and still can be, on track to do what it was asked. 

Further, the revolving fund helped to deliver the excellent value for money of £34k public subsidy per affordable home being built.  

So why then, your readers might ask, did the Government (which after all was being run by the same political party as the Mayor) withhold funding from the CPCA?

It's a question I have asked myself many times over - for the answer, I believe one needs to look to the senior civil servant involved and links with local opposition voices.

In summary, "that's politics".

Anna Bailey, Leader of East Cambs District Council and Councillor for Downham Villages

Slashing overseas aid budget

In last week's Voice of the Fens on Postbag, you asked for readers' comments/opinions regarding the "slashing of the overseas aid budget"; especially given the unsurprising support given to this by two of our local MP's.

There are many things that one might say. Perhaps I should first admit that I do not know enough about this matter; but I do care.

Development should be recogised as a combination of efforts and ideas, which will not simply be addressed by the transfer of monetary resources.

A political pledge has been broken by continually failing to to commit 0.7% of GNI to foreign aid (1969). 

External critics would also claim that the government is ignoring global poverty.

Nevertheless, the target is increasingly outdated and at best, may be viewed as a symbolic gesture.

It is time to adjust our focus from a fixed aid target to a more honest conversation about development.

Further to the conversation, I would add that, in my opinion, our spending on defence, weapons and military might is misguided.

I believe the defence budget could be spent in more positive ways. 

Perhaps the best form of defence is to raise others up and, in the longer term, I believe that this will become clear.

In the meantime, I worry about the example we are setting and what we are teaching our children/young people about how to relate to other people and different cultures.

Ann Hine

Disappeared wildlife

It is the cause of some concern that the ducks and geese in Ely have disappeared from the riverside and Palace Green.

The squirrels have also gone from our trees here in St. Catherines. 

Brian Tindall

Boundary review

The new Boundary Commission Parliamentary Constituency review once again does little to deal with the anomaly of Newmarket sitting in West Suffolk whilst surrounded by East Cambridgeshire.

Our historic town deserves so much better from its district and county councils.

As many will know, the town falls under two district councils, two county councils and two police forces - even without the mention of the complication of local education and the racecourse having four authorities to deal with.

My reasoning behind moving Newmarket into Cambridgeshire comes from my previous experience as a district councillor on East Cambs representing the Cheveley Ward and 2 years on the Newmarket Town Council.

The pragmatic approach and investment has seen East Cambs, which is by far a much smaller authority, provide a fantastic leisure and cinema facility in Ely.

It is a market town which thrives whilst Newmarket rarely, if ever, sees any such pragmatism or investment in the town from West Suffolk or Suffolk County Councils.

But what we do have is increased car parking charges while, in Ely, it still remains free.

To align the town with Cambridge and Ely would, in my view, allow for future development, growth and investment along with the added benefits which the combined authority offer.

West Suffolk Council seems to concentrate on Bury St Edmunds and Mildenhall where an investment of over £1m has been allocated for its new hub.

With Suffolk County Council in Ipswich, one wonders what they really do think of Newmarket on its outer reaches.

Tom Kerby