It’s a UK first, and being in at the start was exhilarating and humbling. Citizens, academics, the universities minister, and local councillors and MPs gathered to celebrate the birth of something that will outlast us all, make dreams come true, and shape thousands of lives for generations to come.
And while setting up a future-now university – in a city with Bronze Age ancestry and two world-famous Queens at one time buried in its cathedral – doesn’t happen every day, I’d say it exemplifies exactly what the Combined Authority is about.
Making stuff happen. Enabling. Bringing the right partners together to build the future from scratch.
Unlocking, unblocking, Mayoral Combined Authorities like ours have been created to rethink how things are done here in England, to deliver breakthroughs and speed up processes in a way that keeps pace with today’s fast-moving world.
That’s the role of the Combined Authority here in Cambridgeshire. To whoosh in oxygen and ginger things up. Its job is to disrupt, to be can-do, entrepreneurial, and inventive. To aspire and find workarounds. Achieve cut-through. Bring partners together and negotiate – and be brave enough to bang heads if it helps. To think big in securing the money and expertise to get things done, dusted, and delivered at pace.
Progress over process.
Nearly a quarter through the 21st century, we should be throwing our minds forward, not looking back. We’re facing post-industrial and post-Covid issues for huge ageing populations – and they need green, wired-in homes, green and accessible public transport, and wildlife-friendly spaces, all in a climate that is collapsing and a world where the ‘Normal’ is new. Meeting the challenge on all fronts means we must do things differently.
We must reinvent the wheel.
If anything is trailblazing, Peterborough’s employment-focussed university is. It’s whole essence and approach is innovative. It breaks the mould. It directly addresses the needs of the Peterborough area and its people and it will waste no time in delivering. Doors open in 2022, with the plan to offer courses for up to 12,500 by 2030.
This new kid on the block will give locals top-notch higher education on their doorstep, creating the hyper-skilled workforce that employers in Peterborough badly need. No longer will bright young stars have to ‘go away to Uni’ because they can’t get educated back home or find a job afterwards.
Progress over process. Working smarter. To me, the whole point of politics is simple – delivering for people. Getting transport that works for everyone, seeing new homes built and handed over, providing practical skills and re-training programmes are what drive me, and having a hand in the delivery is why I stood to be Mayor in the first place.
I couldn’t be prouder that Peterborough’s own Uni will stand tall on that Embankment and breathe fresh life into the city and region. It’s a huge priority for me, but it’s just one of many. A world class metro system for Greater Cambridge and the wider area; the A10 dualled and made cycle-friendly between Ely and Cambridge, an interim Cambridge South station years ahead of the Government timetable; a station for Soham; Wisbech back on the railway, active and green transport in place, and our market towns thriving again. That’ll do for starters.
Without question, this country’s system for planning and delivering new infrastructure really does need a vigorous shake-up to match today’s ambitions. It takes too long and ends up costing far more than it should. Thankfully, the Combined Authority I lead isn’t afraid to challenge that system, working directly with Government, and pressing key players like Network Rail and Highways England to push forward with us to save time and money.
We don’t dawdle or revel in process for its own sake, but we always spend significant time on creating the business case for investment. Government is on the lookout for quick-return ‘shovel-ready’ schemes, so having the right studies and business cases worked up to prove all the plusses by way of economic and social benefits, is well worth the effort.
To bring big transformational schemes like the University so far forward in just three years, shows the real momentum of the Combined Authority – a model that is engineered for speed, for agility and for breaking new ground in a way that local councils are not, and never were.