Cambridgeshire’s unique position in the UK and in the world, is rooted in its history - Ely Cathedral – the ship of the fens, marks a site where significant religious observance has taken place since the 7th century, The University of Cambridge, founded in 1209, was granted a royal charter by King Henry III in 1231, making it the UK’s second-oldest university. As dredging of the fens began in earnest in the 17th century, land became available for agriculture, and as close links to the sea enabled commerce, it brought great wealth to local landowners.
As well as being richly endowed with natural assets – with a unique landscape which harbours a rich diversity of species, Cambridgeshire’s people are innovative and entrepreneurial. Its businesses are at the forefront of the new industrial revolution, and its academic offer is world-beating.
However, it is true that the county can also be seen as a “microcosm” of the UK, as sitting side by side with great success is significant inequality. While levels of disability and general ill-health are generally low in Cambridgeshire, they are higher in Fenland. Life expectancy in Cambridgeshire is above national average and premature death rates are low. But there are important gaps in life expectancy and mortality in deprived areas of Cambridgeshire compared with more affluent ones.
The county is also not one unified economy but three quite different ones. The south of the area, the “Greater Cambridge” area (Cambridge, South Cambridgeshire, and parts of Huntingdonshire and East Cambridgeshire), while not without deprivation, is prosperous and attracts many international businesses to come to the area and grow. Skills levels and wages are high. As the area established itself as a scientific centre of global importance, a wave of large multinational companies moved in. One of the most significant and currently most prominent is AstraZeneca (AZ), which moved its global headquarters to the city in May 2016. Multinationals have continued to develop a presence, both outside the city, but also within it, including Microsoft, Apple and Amazon.
The impacts of business growth have not been entirely positive however – Cambridge is regularly identified in national polls as being one of the most unequal cities in the UK. Growth in employment has not been matched by corresponding house-building, or developments in infrastructure. Consequently, house prices have soared and journey times have increased as congestion has intensified. The point is being rapidly approached where even high-value businesses may decide that being based in Cambridge is no longer attractive, and the damage to society from the continuing drift away of less well-paid workers may become irreparable.
To the north of the county around Peterborough, there is much industry and potential; however, deprivation levels are higher, and many residents feel untouched by the economic success of the Greater Cambridge area. It has a lower proportion of higher-level skills than elsewhere in the area, and educational and health outcomes in are relatively poor.
This is also true in the agricultural areas and market towns that make up the third area, broadly defined as the fens. As they were drained from the 17th century onwards, land became available for agriculture, and close links to the sea enabled commerce. This brought great wealth to the region as landowners prospered and led to the formation of market towns, which across the whole region account for almost 25% of the population. While some of these towns are thriving (particularly those with easier connection to Cambridge), while others are struggling. The fens are also considered one of the UK’s greatest natural assets with a rich wetland ecosystem which affords great leisure opportunities.
The high-grade soil available in the fens means that agricultural production is sizeable. Land is very flat, which is ideal for the construction of greenhouses. This has brought with it a sizeable food processing and packaging industry. Many very large firms, such as McCain and Del Monte, have plants in the north-east of the County and export from here around the world. Figures from the Centre for Business Research show that primary sectors constitute 24% of East Cambridgeshire’s turnover, and 17% of Fenland’s.
Cambridgeshire County Council
Between 1974 until 1998 the county council administered the entire county of Cambridgeshire, until Peterborough City Council became a unitary authority in 1998, and therefore outside the area of the county council.
The political leadership of the council consists of 61 councillors, representing 59 electoral divisions, holding elections every four years. Since May 2021 it has been led by a joint administration of the Liberal Democrats, Labour Party, and independent groups. Prior to that, between 2017-2021, the council was in Conservative control. The Leader of the Council is Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Liberal Democrat) and the Deputy Leader is Cllr Elisa Meschini (Labour).
The Council works on a committee system. Each committee has a Chair and Vice Chair from the Joint Administration.
- Cambridgeshire County Council serves a population of 653,537
- Our workforce is 4,388 people (3,466 FTE)
- Of the total gross spend of £754 million that the council has budgeted to spend in 2021-2022, it will raise £325 million from council tax
- We maintain 2,784 miles of public highway
- We grit 1,300 miles of priority routes during the winter months
- We maintain 1, 824 miles of footpath
- Our social care teams support around 14,000 vulnerable adults – and provide care for around 8,000 older people in their own homes
- We support around 700 children in our care in fostering placements
- We work with 250 schools to ensure around 85,000 children receive the high-quality education to which they are entitled
- We support around 15,500 children with free school meals each year
- We transport 15,000 children to school each day
- We provide nine household waste centres – and last year recycled 75.6% of waste taken there
- We have 61,778 active library users
- Our Archive centre holds 855 tonnes of historical documents
- Our registration service registered the birth of 7,145 children in the county last year