PAUL BULLEN, UKIP: Dare he, would he abolish the county council?
PUBLISHED: 16:45 20 April 2017
The £600 million controlled by the new mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough should be spent on solving the county’s current problems before splashing it elsewhere.
That’s the message from UKIP candidate for the job, Councillor Paul Bullen, who says too much public money has been wasted on “wrong decisions”, and that local government should be made more efficient.
“A lot of the candidates are saying we need to hit the ground running and as soon as we’ve got the money we need to spend it,” Cllr Bullen, who currently sits on Cambridgeshire County Council, said.
“No. That’s a recipe for wasting it in my view and we need to take a step back.
“Unfortunately the county council, especially, has made some huge, wrong decisions in the past,” he added.
“The guided busway was wrong – it was the wrong transportation project at the wrong place at the wrong time, and it’s not tried and tested and that’s why it’s falling apart because it’s on fenland and it sinks.
“Then we had the lighting PFI [Private Finance Initiative] contract. Why we didn’t stipulate LED lighting at a time when LED technology was proven and affordable and drops your electricity bills by more than 90 per cent I don’t know. We put more bulbs in the lights, and half of them didn’t need changing anyway.
“That’s why I wouldn’t go head first into spending £600 million of public money. And that’s the big thing for me – it’s not my money.”
When the new mayor is elected to the combined authority, he or she will be given £20million to share out between each of the county’s council areas. The funding
will continue every year for 30 years, totalling £600million.
“I would look initially at what we currently have – the infrastructure we currently have in my view is not fit for purpose,” Cllr Bullen added.
“It needs money spent on it and there are millions of potholes all over the place.
There are traffic signals that are wrong, don’t work and which slow down traffic. I believe there is a lot we can do with the infrastructure we currently have that would be better than spending money on a grandiose project that’s going to cost £60 million.
“So if we decided to dual the whole of the A428, yes it needs doing and would be beneficial, but you’ve still got the trunk points at either end which need fixing. You need to look at the whole transport infrastructure.”
The former RAF officer also believes there is “no reason whatsoever” for the county council to increase council tax, and that it’s another area where money is being wasted.
“A two per cent increase is half of one per cent of what we spend on adult social care.
It doesn’t make any difference, but what it does make a huge difference for is those hard working families in large homes because they have three or four children, are both working, but are on the minimum wage.
“I think it’s very disingenuous for councillors to say it’s only 40p a week or 50p a week on your council bill. Yes, it may well for that part of the precept, but what they don’t say is that as well as the county council having precept rating powers, so too do the town and parish councils, so too does the district council, so too does the police and crime commissioner, so too does the fire authority, and when you add them all together it’s significantly more than what people say.
“The mayor will have precept rating powers for the future, both for the precept and to raise business rates. We cannot continue to tax our people, but we also cannot continue to load more taxes on businesses because that will not improve the economy.”
Despite his plans, Cllr Bullen says he would prefer a unitary authority for the county rather than a combined one.
A unitary authority is when a single authority governs an area, replacing all councils within it, whereas a combined authority sees existing authorities collaborate and take collective decisions across council boundaries.
“I’m not so sure this deal is the right one, but it doesn’t matter – it’s a start. I firmly believe in devolution because I think it’s a step towards a unitary authority or some form of unitary authority.
“What I do have a problem with is the fact that it doesn’t only put one more level of bureaucracy into local government, but two. You have the combined authority and then on top of that you have the mayoral office, along with all the staff and expense that entails. We do not need those two extra tiers of local government to administer a devolution deal.
“However, we are where we are so if I became mayor my job will be to get rid of the county council first because I don’t believe you need a county council, a city deal board, and a combined authority and the unitary authority in Peterborough, all of whom have transport infrastructure responsibilities.
“We don’t need four separate organisations to do that.”