Spot the difference

On Thursday, Cambridge City Council meets for the first time following the recent elections. As well as choosing a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor for the coming year, councillors will debate the Annual Statements put forward by the leaders of each political group. Labour’s comfortable majority on the Council will ensure that its Annual Statement is adopted as policy.

The text of Labour’s Annual Statement is closely based on the manifesto that Labour campaigned on during the local elections; indeed the bulk of the Annual Statement is simply copied and pasted directly from the manifesto. However, there are a number of places where changes have been made to the text. The risk with making such changes, of course, is that some irritating pedant will come along and pick over the differences between the two versions.

So let’s take a look.

In the quotes below, I show text from the manifesto that’s been removed in the Annual Statement like this; text that’s been added in the Annual Statement is shown like this. One of the first differences is in the section describing the Council’s achievements over the last two years:

Since 2016 we have, amongst many other things:

  • bid for circa £193 million to move Anglian Water’s Chesterton water treatment works recycling centre, which is essential to develop the wider area, and started will be starting work on consulting the community on its future

Do Anglian Water really call their sewage works a water recycling centre? They do indeed. They even have a Director of Water Recycling, one Paul Gibbs. It looks like the manifesto was a bit overenthusiastic about how far the consultation process has got, so the Annual Statement now merely says it “will be starting”, instead of claiming that it already has.

Another quoted achievement is that the council has

won with others a commitment from Government for a Cambridge South Station by 2022, a station with nearly zero cars except for disabled access.

Perhaps this addition to the Annual Statement is just clarifying that the Council isn’t claiming all the credit – or perhaps it is seeking to spread the responsibility now that the Government has announced that its target date for Cambridge South isn’t until 2025.

Later on in the document, there are some curious edits around the role of the Citizens Advice Bureau:

Continue to develop vital citywide and local advice and support services for those most in need, provided building on the work by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), our skilled council advisers and others other agencies. We will investigate expanding CAB outreach to other locations of high need following the success of the ‘Advice on Prescription’ service at GP surgeries.

These edits seem to suggest that the Council may be considering delivering advice and support services by routes other than the CAB.

One of the more significant changes comes in the section on housing:

Develop Consider whether we can develop further the Council’s Housing Company, set up in 2015, to purchase and manage intermediate housing at submarket rents, and work with the Council’s Housing Development Agency and our partners in the Greater Cambridge Partnership to deliver additional affordable homes.

Here the Annual Statement is backing off from the manifesto pledge to develop the Housing Company further, instead merely promising to consider doing so. It would be interesting to know more about why this change has been made, and what the implications are for the Council’s Housing Company.

Some more backing off occurs in policy on mental health issues:

Ensure Council policies and delivery of services have an improved a sustained focus on the needs of people who experience inequality, including for people who are isolated, or experience significant mental health issues.

The Council might argue that its focus on these issues is already perfectly adequate, but merely sustaining rather than improving it is a less challenging commitment.

Another change occurs in the plans for Jesus Green Lido:

Bring forward proposals for the refurbishment or redevelopment of Jesus Green Lido, with an aim for completion by the time of its centenary in 2023

Here the Annual Statement adds refurbishment as a presumably cheaper alternative to the redevelopment of the Lido that the manifesto promised. The plans for the Park Street car and cycle park also get a bit of an edit:

Develop plans for a smaller Park Street Car Park, incorporating underground car parking and a new cycle park car and cycle parking, with an increased number of electric charging points, and wider site use to fund the works.

Someone has presumably remembered that Park Street already has a cycle park, so the redevelopment won’t be adding a new one. The additional charging points are a new pledge.

As well as the changes I’ve listed, there are others that simply clarify the manifesto text, and a few that tone down criticism of other parties, which is presumably seen as less appropriate for an Annual Statement than a manifesto.

Despite these changes, the great majority of the Annual Statement matches the manifesto word for word, and the differences are not very dramatic – it’s unlikely that many voters would change their allegiance on the basis of any of these policy shifts. But it’s still a bit surprising to see these kinds of changes being made to the platform that Cambridge Labour put to the electorate only a few weeks ago.

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