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UKIP locally need to work out what they believe for Conservatives to be able to work with them

CurtisCllr Martin Curtis, the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, on the challenges of running a minority administration

The change in political control in Cambridgeshire took everyone by surprise. Despite the fact that the election result was "No Overall Control", there were successes for the Conservatives, especially in East and South Cambridgeshire where we gained seats.

The surprise was in the Fenland and Huntingdonshire areas where nobody predicted the level of the swing towards UKIP (including UKIP themselves). That and the fact that our Leader, Nick Clarke lost his seat (almost certainly because he lived outside his Division) threw us into a situation that no-one suspected.

However, we have quickly dusted ourselves off and are very much looking forwards. We are running a minority administration and retain the ambition to deliver the priorities contained in our manifesto. In terms of our economy that means ensuring we deliver on the major infrastructure projects that, when in place, will ensure that Cambridgeshire thrives.

My background is in Logistics and IT, so I am all too aware that if we can move people, goods and data around our County smoothly and efficiently, our economy will improve. Previous plans to deliver super fast broadband, A14 improvement, the Ely southern bypass, new rail stations and other infrastructure projects are still very much at the heart of our agenda.

Delivering on that whilst maintaining our ambition to be more preventative in our approach to Adult Social Care and our support to vulnerable children, especially with what is likely to be a very difficult financial settlement next year, is not going to be easy - but we are up for the challenge.

We also know that delivering those projects in a new environment means a different sort of politics. We need to be more inclusive, picking up and dealing with political differences early and working closer with other political groups in a way that we had not before - and a huge part of my early work is to make sure we are able to do this. One of my first announcements was the creation of all-party advisory groups to cover the Council's priorities, so that they can take an early look at future decisions, with the expectation that Cabinet Members will show how those groups have shaped the agendas when we make decisions.

That said, we still have 46% of the seats on the Council, three seats short of an outright majority, and we are more than twice as big as any of the other political groups, whilst we have to work closely with others, we must not allow ourselves to be dominated by four opposition groups, especially given that they have hugely diverse views and agendas.

One of the debates that has taken place here on Conservative Home is about whether Conservatives who find themselves part of the largest group in a situation of No Overall Control should share power with UKIP. My suspicion is that when the Council beds down and gets beyond the power struggles, we will find ourselves with much in common with UKIP, but we needed to see where they positioned themselves locally first.

Early signs are not good. UKIP in Cambridgeshire launched a drive for power at any cost, making statements in the media about deals with other groups that added to staff uncertainty and which were blatantly untrue (and those of you that say "that's just politics" should ask yourselves whether politics should be about those things).

So far UKIP's primary interest is obtaining some sort of power - even if it means dealing with people who are politically poles apart from them. This has been rounded off with the discovery that one of their councillors went through the election knowing that he was being investigated for benefit fraud, for which he entered a not guilty plea at the County Court last Friday.

The one fly in the ointment about the way forward for Cambridgeshire is a motion approved at Full Council and supported by all of the opposition groups to move to a committee system of governance. We argued a strong case to say that the debate should be about what is right for Cambridgeshire rather than a review focussed solely on committees. But it was a vote we were never going to win.

Our aim now is to make sure we have a review which recognises that there are shortcomings with both Cabinet and Committee systems. If we can find a solution that incorporates the inclusiveness of committees without losing the decisiveness of the Cabinet system, it will be for the better - we should not be afraid of a review that seeks that solution.

My one disappointment about the first few weeks was the obsession with power without any real focus on what is right for the people of Cambridgeshire. Politics is about delivering the aspirations of the population you serve, or it is nothing (something too many of us forget).

Even as a minority administration, even with the compromises we have had to make and will continue to have to make, the Conservative Group in Cambridgeshire is committed to the people we serve and committed to a positive agenda that will ensure that Cambridgeshire has a thriving economy and is able to support its most vulnerable.


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