Having spent the last few years working on a proposal to start tackling Cambridge’s chronic congestion issues, the GCP’s plan, revised or otherwise, attracted such vocal opposition that elected officials quickly withdrew support, effectively killing the scheme. But what is the GCP, and an ‘elected official’? And why are there so many different organisations in charge of Cambridge?

In most places in England there are two organisations providing local services: district/city councils provide services such as refuse collection, leisure facilities and maintaining parks/greenspace. County councils are generally responsible for education, social care and transport, they will be over a larger geographical area containing multiple district councils. Here is an overview of the organisations running Cambridge.

Cambridge City Council – For the most part, the city council performs a fairly standard role for a district council. It is the city council that collects council tax, empties your bins, maintains parks and green spaces and looks at smaller planning applications. Alongside the 42 elected councillors, the council employs 800 staff to deliver local services.

Cambridgeshire County Council – The county council controls services including education, social care, libraries, transport and strategic planning (major projects such as large housing developments). Generally, most residents will have little direct interaction with the County Council unless they are recipients of social care or have a young person who needs extra support to access education. Despite this, the authority employs over 4,000 members of staff alongside the 61 elected councillors.

Greater Cambridge Partnership – An organisation, set up in 2014 to deliver the ‘Greater Cambridge City Deal’. This was part of the City Deal initiative, designed to provide greater autonomy to a coordinated group of local authorities and major stakeholders to enable increased growth. The result of this for Cambridge was around £1 billion of public sector investment to be delivered over the 16 years. Apart from the Chisolm Trail, a highly successful walking and cycling route in the west of the city, the GCP is yet to deliver a meaningful solution to any of Cambridge’s major problems. The public will generally have no interaction with the GCP apart from public consultations. The GCP only generates proposals, these must all be voted on by elected officials from all local authorities affected to be enacted.

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority – Cambridge is a member of one of the ten combined authorities. Combined authorities are legal bodies set up to allow greater collaboration across council boundaries. There is a directly elected mayor, currently Nik Johnson who has powers devolved from central government including  a £20 million annual budget as well as powers to spend up to £800 million on local housing and infrastructure. Whilst there are similarities between the GCP and the CPCA including limited interaction with the public, the CPCA has the power to fulfil its projects. Though the CPCA is yet to deliver any major projects, other combined authorities have delivered major projects such as that of the Greater Manchester integrated ‘bee’ transport network where local transport is under local control, showing the potential power that the CPCA holds.

The complex arrangement of Cambridge’s local government does beg the question; is there too much bureaucracy? With the ever-growing graveyard of projects either too ambitious or controversial to succeed, maybe it is time to change. Unitary authorities, where the District Council takes on the roles of the County Council can prove successful with the London boroughs being a good example of this. Cambridge is not unique in its challenges though, overhaul of local government is beginning to seem like an inevitability in the coming decades with councils across the country struggling to provide basic services, let alone deliver the ambitious projects needed to support decarbonisation and population growth.