Councillor Steve Count

Personal news and views from the Conservative Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council


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LABOUR AND LIBERAL DEMOCRATS TRY TO WRIGGLE OUT OF FAIR AND EQUAL REDUCTION IN ALLOWANCES!

The Conservative Group propose to take the same decrease as staff, but other Groups want to keep their allowances the same
In early October the workforce of Cambridgeshire County Council earning over £25,000 p.a. were asked to take three days unpaid leave over the Christmas period, enacting a clause in their contract. That amendment to their contracts had been negotiated previously with their unions. This has two impacts, one is effectively a reduction in pay of approximately 1.2%, the other an increase of three days leave (although unpaid) entitlement. This does not apply to any staff earning less than £25,000 a year.

Leader of the Council, Steve Count (pictured) says, “After discussions the Conservative Group are united in sending a message to our staff that we are in this together. The Conservative Group will therefore be taking a motion to Council next Tuesday calling on all Parties and members to unite with us, by taking a decrease in allowances equivalent to the workforce of approximately 1.2%. Furthermore, there are only nine councillors paid above the £25,000 threshold but the Group is unanimous in that each and every one of our Group will take the reduction.
As Councillors we are often called upon during any part of the year, so we do not have a holiday entitlement the same as the workforce, therefore the three extra days extra unpaid leave will not apply to us.”
Enacting this clause in the workforce’s contract was necessary due to the well-known and unprecedented demands on the budget. The savings generated by this proposal from the Conservative Group will be approximately £9,000 pounds compared to the significant £900,000 that will be saved from the staffing budget. We therefore recognise that our saving contribution proposal is more a gesture of unity than financially significant, but an important message that needs to be heard.
The Labour Group and Liberal Democrat Group have subsequently united behind a proposal where there will be no decrease in anyone’s pay, and therefore keeping their allowances where they are. Embarrassingly for them they did not even try to suggest where almost £1m to finance their proposal should come from. These two Groups opposed the allowance rise last year which brought all councillors in Cambridgeshire County Council up to the national average. To date only one councillor has declined to take the increase, despite all the members of those two Groups voting against it.

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Unpaid Christmas Leave

In early October we asked the workforce to take three days unpaid leave over the Christmas period, enacting a clause in their contract. That amendment to their contracts had been negotiated previously with their unions, however so far this is the only year we have had to call upon it. This has two impacts, one is effectively a reduction in pay of approximately 1.2%, the other an increase of three days leave (although unpaid) entitlement. This does not apply to any staff earning less than £25,000 a year.

As Leader after discussions with my Conservative group and the Labour group leader Councillor Joan Whitehead, we are united in sending a message to our staff that we are in this together. I will therefore be taking a motion to Council in December calling on all parties and members to unite with us, by taking a decrease in allowances equivalent to the workforce of approximately 1.2%. Furthermore, there are only nine councillors (Including myself as Leader) paid above the £25,000 threshold but my group are unanimous in that each and every one us will take the reduction. I ask that leaders of the other groups and all members show their commitment to this course of action by voting for our motion in December.

As Councillors we are often called upon during any part of the year, so we do not have a holiday entitlement the same as the workforce, therefore the three extra days extra unpaid leave will not apply to us.

Enacting this clause in the workforce’s contract was necessary due to the well-known and unprecedented demands on our budget. The savings generated by this motion from Councillors will be approximately £9,000 pounds compared to the significant £900,000 we will save from the staffing budget. I therefore recognise that our saving contribution is more a gesture of unity than financially significant. As Councillors we are asked repeatedly to make difficult decisions and strive for a balance, not just for our residents but also for our hard-working staff. I am proud of the way the workforce has stepped forward year after year in delivering more for less, primarily through transformation and efficiency. As the leader of the administration I thank them for their efforts and promise to continue to do my utmost to maintain this Council on a sound financial footing, thereby avoiding the harshest of decisions some councils nationally have already been forced to take.




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Ely Southern Bypass opened

Ely Bypass opened 31 10 2018

I was delighted to be part of the official party that opened the £49m Ely Southern Bypass, passing over the River Great Ouse and two railway lines in Ely, on 31 October 2018. This is an incredibly important and aesthetically pleasing piece of infrastructure, vital to alleviate the misery felt by commuters and businesses in the area.

Ely Southern Bypass is a 1.7km single carriageway with a viaduct crossing the Great Ouse and a bridge over two railway lines. It will connect the A142 at Angel Drove to Stuntney Causeway.

The bypass, which started in January 2017, has been built across a flood plain and poor Fenland soils, and is now open to traffic. It will boost the economy and transport links for local people and reduce journey times for drivers by up to 56%.

In total, around 2,092 tonnes of steel have been used, 17,000 tonnes of asphalt laid and approx. 180,000m3 of clay, over half of which was sourced from a local farm in Stuntney.

This project has been funded by Cambridgeshire County Council (£21m), East Cambridgeshire District Council (£1m), Network Rail (£5m) and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (£22m Growth Deal including £16m from DfT).


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Norwood Road footpath starts July 23rd

CCC press release below

A long awaited scheme to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety at Norwood Road Bridge in March starts on Monday (July 23)

Cambridgeshire County Council begins a 14 week project to build a new footpath and cycleway in Norwood Road, after a campaign by local Member and Cambridgeshire County Council leader Steve Count saw the successful purchase of land from Network Rail, and funding agreed for the design and build a new footpath and cycleway over the railway bridge

Because the bridge is so narrow the work will be carried out in two phases. The first phase – due to last six weeks – will have only minimal impact on the road with the occasional temporary traffic lights. This work will be Monday to Friday between 8am and 5pm, with occasional weekend working.

As work progresses, the second phase will require the road to be closed, and this is likely to be from Sept 3 but will depend on the weather and how the work progresses. Advanced warning signs will be displayed at least two weeks before the road closure and letters will be sent to very local residents.

Local people have known for decades the Norwood Road Bridge in March has presented an extremely dangerous situation to pedestrians due to the absence of a footpath on a narrow, steep, blind corner.

The agreed solution of all interested parties is the installation of a dual use cycleway/footpath and traffic light system before the bridge.

The announcement of the date is a culmination of a seven year campaign by Cllr Steve Count, which involved getting wasteland running alongside the bridge transferred to the ownership of the county council, securing funding for both a feasibility study and then £230,000 of project funding, plus the development of an agreed design for the work.

“I am delighted that work will finally begin next week on a scheme that has been so eagerly awaited by local people,” said Cllr Count.   “Their patience has been rewarded with the start date this July now confirmed. The benefit of this new footpath and cycleway on the safety of this area cannot be underestimated which is why I have pressed for it to happen for so long.”

You can watch Cllr Count talking about Norwood Bridge here.

Timeline

Councillor Steve Count – in his role at the time of both a town councillor and Fenland District councillor – began work in 2011 to secure the ownership of the very small strip of wasteland which runs alongside the bridge, securing funds and getting an approved design drawn up to solve this situation.

Key dates

  • Between 2011 – 2014 considerable work undertaken to identify the exact owner of the land, believed first to be Network Rail, although subsequently discovered to be a charity called ‘Railway Paths’
  • 2013 – funding secured by Cllr Count for a feasibility study for the safety work
  • 2014/15 –project funding for the dual use cycleway/footpath agreed by CCC
  • 2016 – ownership of land transferred back to Network Rail from Railway Paths
  • 2017 – pressure continues from CCC to agree transfer of land from NR to CCC and for agreement for cycleway/footpath design.
  • 2018 – deadlock on ownership transfer and significant delays on an agreed design are escalated by Cllr Count via Gillian Beasley to NWR chief executive Mark Carne
  • 2018 – Network Rail’s Route Managing Director, Meliha Duymaz works with Graham Hughes, CCC’s Executive Director for Place and Economy to unblock final legal and design issues
  • April 2018 – legal title of land is transferred to CCC, and design is agreed.
  • July 23 2018 – work due to start.
  • End of October – anticipated completion.

 


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Potholes, the “Dragon Patcher”, and the lessons to be learnt.

Dragon Patcher“The Beast from the East”. Everybody knew about it when it was here, but was soon forgotten. However it left a lasting legacy. By the end of March more potholes had been reported than the entire previous year. Our gritting crews did 26 nights in February and 14 in March, an almost unbroken and unheard of run of 40 days in a row. When the roads, froze and then thawed, an ever increasing pot hole number and long lasting damage occurred. The night crews often coming from our pothole repair crews, worked tirelessly to keep our roads open and safe. When not gritting the ever increasing spate of pot hole reports were addressed with emergency and dangerous repairs taking precedence. Our normal practise of clean cut and patched work having to take more of a back seat as the escalation of emergency repairs increased. But the weather has changed and we are now bringing the backlog down and improving the standards of our roads once again. With eleven dedicated crews on the ground, plus the dragon patcher, we’re currently filling more than 1300 potholes a week.

One thing this situation did was expose the cracks in our own organisation in dealing effectively with this increased volume of repairs. Something that has not been ignored but is effecting change to improve the situation for the future. Some of the improvement programme is now being implemented, some examples of which are below.

I acknowledge that there has been a problem in terms of quality of repair and consistency of repair across the county. When very cold the only possible repair possible in many cases was a temporary fix. The two colour paint you now see across the county is key to addressing this. Yellow typically up to 21 days and white up to 12 weeks, but the layout is important too. Those bracket lines indicate square cuts and proper patching so we have the same standard moving forwards. This also tells the public the pot hole has been reported. Returns to the same area will be monitored and acted on.

The reporting system has been cleared of 1,000 redundant flags, so reporting is easier. System responses to the public are being standardised so they make sense, explain the category of response and have to give a time line for effective repair.

The Dragon Patcher has been incredibly effective with the ability to repair a pot hole in sub optimal temperatures, which a gritting crew cannot do. With up to eleven times the output of a gritting crew at less than half the cost per hole. Another two Dragon Patchers which were on order arrive in June / July, so by next winter we will have three times this capacity.

Members spent two hours at a seminar yesterday, being briefed on all things “Pothole” including questioning officers in detail regarding the extensive action plan being implemented so our roads are recovered to an acceptable standard, and the lessons of this year are learnt before the next cold onslaught.

To the crews I say thank you for doing your best in extremely challenging situations. To the public I apologise and say we could have and should have done better. However the County Council I believe has learnt its lessons and I will actively continue to challenge to ensure those lessons are implemented.


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Victory after seven-years for £200,000 Norwood Road Bridge footpath.

Norwood victoryNorwood diagram

It took seven years – during which time I exchanged 300 emails – but finally I’ve succeeded in getting a start date, July 2018 for a £200,000 new footpath and cycle way over Norwood Bridge, March. It was the last of three election pledges I made and the most difficult to fulfil, but we are finally getting there.

Local people have known for decades the Norwood Road Bridge has presented an extremely dangerous situation to pedestrians, the absence of a footpath on a narrow, steep, blind corner which suffers from a high incidence of speeding is crazy. It is really dangerous and the only reason I think there has not been an accident is people are so terrified they hug the side. Work will start in July after the county council finally secured the extra bit of land they need to undertake the improvements. It will transform the area, and is the culmination of a campaign I began in 2011.

The road over the bridge will become one way with traffic lights each side making it safer for pedestrians. It will be single lane with traffic light and there are number of reasons for that. When engineers looked at it they said because of line of sight, curvature and height of  you need to restrict it to single lane. There are safety reasons for this and one other thing too – they are going to be smart lights so if you are speeding on the approach to the bridge they will go to red.

It involved getting wasteland running alongside the bridge transferred to the ownership of the county council, securing funding for both a feasibility study and then £200,000 of project funding, plus the development of an agreed design for the work

I first began work seven years ago to secure the ownership of the very small strip of wasteland which runs alongside the bridge, securing funds and getting an approved design drawn up to solve this situation.

Between 2011 – 2014 considerable work was undertaken to identify the exact owner of the land, believed at first to be Network Rail, although subsequently discovered to be a charity called ‘Railway Paths’ In 2013 funding was secured for a feasibility study for the safety work. In 2014/15 the £200,000 project received funding for the dual use cycleway/footpath agreed by the county council. In 2016 ownership of land transferred back to Network Rail from Railway Paths. Last year I continued to pressurise with County Council colleagues, to agree transfer of the land from Network Paths and agreement for the cycleway/footpath design.

As 2018 dawned and the deadlock on ownership transfer continued and with significant delays on an agreed design, pressure was put on Network Rail I asked for additional help from my chief executive Gillian Beasley. On April 4th I was delighted the County now owned title to the land.

I am incredibly grateful to the chief executive and Network Rail’s Route Managing Director, Meliha Duymaz for unblocking the final hurdles to this much needed benefit for local people – which now, finally, has an agreed start date, of July 2018.

 


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Exonerated and Excited

The Public Accounts Committee has finalised it’s report into the Greater Peterborough Greater Cambridge Local Enterprise Partnership (GCGP LEP). Now that it is being wound up and I have been able to step aside as Director I can expand on just how difficult but necessary a journey starting anew was. As I stated in earlier reports I had serious concerns about the governance and decision making at the GCGP LEP. However as a Director I was legally limited in my approach to publicly rectifying those and concentrated on achieving changes at board level. In what can only be described as a damning indictment by the Public Accounts committee, with comments such as “there was no misuse of public funds in this instance; however, this is due more to luck than effective oversight”. I am glad this debacle has come to an end and the Mayor and combined authority are able to put the future input of the Business community onto a more stable and respected basis.

In the report specific concerns I personally raised were quoted as part of the evidence used to support their findings.   “some decisions being made by the LEP are done so without adequate supporting documentation”, “no forward plan for future agenda items”, “board papers and minutes not properly placed on the website”, “no verbal or written report from the Chief Executive on the National Assurance Framework” and a “rushed” approach to agreeing the local assurance.

Considering the finding of the committee regarding the chairman, “We also put on record our displeasure at the conduct of the former Chair of GCGP LEP” I feel completely exonerated in my motion of no confidence in him. I hope that those that voted against my proposal have now come to realise just how far adrift from acceptable practise the GCGP LEP was. The damage to this area is recoverable but we have lost a year, according to the committee report this “meant the area missed out on over £37 million pounds of investment in 2017”.

I wish to thank Stephen Barclay MP who was able to drive forward, publicly bring focus on and bring pressure to the failings of the LEP. My chief executive Gillian Beasley, who supported me throughout and provided the evidence to Government and the Public Accounts committee, and the Mayor James Palmer and his chief executive Martin Whiteley in stepping in with forward looking proposals to bring this to an end and start with a clean sheet.

Looking at the past and the report, there were lessons for all of us to learn including the Government in its direction on governance. As to the future, the Combined authority and the Mayor have made a great start by unlocking over £40 million pounds to be invested in the GCGP LEP area. I look forward to and I am excited by the prospect of the new business board and the economic commission inputting into our work at the Combined authority. A strong voice for business with a solid evidence base is vital to help local and central Government spend public funds to drive forward enhanced economic growth in this area.