New leader outlines business support aims and confirms cabinet
The new Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council has set out a vision to significantly improve the support offered to small businesses.
Speaking at the annual meeting today (Wednesday 23 May), Cllr Bridget Smith said the Council would be looking at everything it does in the business arena to identify opportunities to offer even greater assistance.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that South Cambridgeshire, part of one of the fastest growing economies in the UK, is home to more than 8,000 businesses. That figure has increased by almost a fifth in the last eight years. ONS figures also indicate that there are around 900 new companies starting up within the district every year.
A commitment to review the authority’s approach to its pre-planning application advice service for businesses was announced at the annual Council meeting. This service, only used by around 40 companies last year, provides important guidance for organisations before they officially apply to build new premises or extend or alter an existing building.
A pledge to speed up the delivery of ‘truly affordable’ and keyworker housing was made by Cllr Smith, along with a commitment to put green issues higher up the authority’s agenda.
It was also announced that a Brexit Working Group will be set up, to work with South Cambridgeshire businesses facing challenges, such as staffing, due to Britain’s forthcoming exit from the European Union, and consider what practical steps can be taken to help them. It will also link-up with local business groups and other Councils to ascertain how Brexit will impact our economy and what the Council can do to mitigate this.
Additionally, there was confirmation the Council will be more focussed on climate change and the environment. A committee will be established to look at green issues on a local level, reviewing how the Council can be more environmentally friendly. The possibility of including more encouragement of green measures in the planning process, such as rainwater harvesting systems, will also be discussed.
It was also announced that Conservative Cllr Grenville Chamberlain will Chair the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Panel – a committee that holds the decision makers to account. The way scrutiny works will also change so there is more input before decisions are made, rather than review them afterwards as had been the case.
Cllr Smith said: “We want to put the heart into Local Government and we are hitting the ground running. We’re absolutely committed to helping local companies of all sizes flourish, so will do all we can to understand how we can help them achieve their aspirations. Right now, less than one business a week speaks with our planning team to get important advice before applying to alter their buildings or move into the area. So, we’ve announced we’ll look at how we can make this business-focussed planning advice more attractive. This could be one way we give new and emerging firms, and those looking to bring new jobs into South Cambridgeshire, a helping hand. There is lots more work for us to do in this area though as Brexit is a game changer and we must make sure South Cambridgeshire is ready.
“I’m passionate about boosting the amount of truly affordable and keyworker housing, and this is a top priority for us too. We’re also focussed on becoming an aspirational Council when it comes to being as environmentally friendly as possible, so I’m delighted we’ve announced the start of the process that aims to make South Cambridgeshire a green beacon.
“The Council will be transparent, open and honest and I’m so pleased that we’ve started sharing our plans with communities.”
Meet the cabinet
The annual Council meeting also saw confirmation of who will be taking Cabinet positions.
Gamlingay member and Leader Cllr Bridget Smith, who lived in Sierra Leone as a child and whose eldest son is actor Jeremy Irvine, will be lead member for economic development. She has also taken up a place on the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority board. Away from politics, Cllr Smith specialises in environmentally sustainable community buildings and enjoys long distance walking – usually over 25 miles.
The Deputy Leader has been confirmed as Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer, who represents Barrington. Cllr Van de Weyer, who has two children, has a doctorate in French political history and now works as a small business consultant. He will be the Council’s lead member for strategic planning and transport. He’ll also represent the authority on the Greater Cambridge Partnership board. Away from politics, he enjoys cookery, travel and languages.
Cllr John Williams, representing Fen Ditton and Fulbourn, takes up the post as Cabinet Member for Finance. Cllr Williams was previously part of the management team at Stansted Airport. He lists reading, gardening and art among his hobbies.
The Environmental Services and Licensing Cabinet position has been taken on by Cottenham Cllr Neil Gough. He has worked for BP and Vodafone in finance and strategy roles, and lived and worked in the USA, Hong Kong, India and South Africa. Cllr Gough, whose wife Alice grew up in Harston, will now be responsible for waste and recycling services across South Cambridgeshire. He also lectures at the Judge Business School on the Technology Policy programme.
Milton and Waterbeach member Cllr Hazel Smith takes the lead as Cabinet Member for Housing. One of the first women to attend King’s College, she has been a trustee of the homelessness charity Emmaus for the last 14 years. Away from Council, along with her husband she has a keen interest in folk music and plays in a local ceilidh band.
The Planning portfolio is now held by Caldecote Cllr Dr. Tumi Hawkins. Cllr Hawkins, who is originally from Nigeria, had a successful career in telecommunications before becoming involved in property and eCommerce. Cllr Hawkins, a Chartered Engineer with a PhD, is a mum of two and has lived in Caldecote for more than 20 years.
The cabinet is completed by Melbourn Cllr Philippa Hart, who takes on the portfolio of Customer Service and Business Improvement. Cllr Hart, who runs her family’s farm and the village allotments in Meldreth, will also be the lead member for services that the District Council shares with its neighbouring authorities. She is a former lawyer, has two dogs and four children and enjoys music festivals, cycling and running.