What's in the in-tray of the new mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough?

Mayor of two very different cities and a chunk in the middle, James Palmer will have to be a bridge over troubled water. Image: Steff

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain's cities.

So, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has a metro mayor to cover the newly-created combined metro area. 

Obviously, let's just start by saying this is ridiculous. The clue's in the last syllable of the first word. Cambridge-shire. Shire!

Anyway. Obviously, because the vast bulk of this 'metro' mayor's area is literally just fields and villages, they've gone and elected a Conservative mayor, James Palmer. 

But what will he have to tackle – other than working out how to travel most effectively from one village to the next? It's time to hunker down and take a look at the Centre for Cities' data, on their new-fangled 'Metro Mayor Dashboard', to see what's cooking. 

In all sorts of ways, things are very very good in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The proportion of the population with no qualifications is far lower than in the rest of the country. (In all these grapsh, Greater Cambridgeshire is in green, the national average is in grey.)

Click any of the following images to expand. All images: Centre for Cities.

School performance is quite a bit higher too, on average, as measured by the rather nebulous Progress 8 score, which tracks how well pupils perform versus expectations. 

The total number of jobs has increased much faster than it has in the rest of the country, too. 

And those are well-paying jobs. Average weekly earnings are markedly ahead of the national average. 

It makes sense, then, that the employment rate is also higher than the national average by quite a way. 

The youth employment rate, though skittish, is also higher than the national average, and has been consistently – even after some strange sudden dips. 

As a result of all this, the claimant count – the percentage of the population claiming state benefits – is lower than the national average. 

You'll really want to click to expand this one. Image: Centre for Cities.

The region's economic success is also apparent in other ways. Its goods exports – aka, the amount of stuff it ships off to other countries – is higher than the national average. 

And looking at the region as a whole, it's not even as though all this success has come back to bite the people in other ways. 

Housing is still slightly more affordable than the national average, though that gap has closed a little more recently. 

The total number of dwellings has risen faster than the national average, too, which is a good sign in terms of trying to keep that housing affordable. 

But given that the region is so vast, such figures cannot be entirely representative. 

Cambridge, for a start, has vastly inaffordable housing that is well beyond the reach of most people in the city – and has property prices constitently ballooning at wildly unsustainable rates. 

So while housing in Peterborough and the swathes of countryside encompassed by this region might still be relatively affordable, the key city of Cambridge is a different picture. 

And it's sadly not all good news for James Palmer, though his in-tray does look really remarkably light on the ground. 

For a start, good school performance isn't universal. 

Those on free school meals – aka, the poorest kids – are underperforming relative to the national average, and vastly underperforming relative to their more affluent local peers. The region's schools have a serious onus on them to do something about that. 

And though the population is very highly skilled, the region could still do with fostering more new apprenticeships – which currently sit well below the national average. 


Despite the good news of goods exports, services exports are lower than the national average, which definitely has room for improvement. 

On a more immediately practical level, bus journeys are tanking even faster than they are across the country.

Either the buses are rubbish, overpriced, unreliable, or all of the above – and something must be done about it.

And as more and more of us become aware of the negative effects of air pollution – and how severely some of our cities are affected by it – Cambridgeshire & Peterborough should be wary of the cleanliness of its air. 

At the moment, air pollution in the region is higher than the average, though there are some signs that it's falling faster than it is nationally. 

In essence, James Palmer has a pretty good deal. 

He gets the title of metro mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough – which is undoubtedly a promotion from his former role as leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council – but doesn't actually have all that many problems to deal with on a general level. 

That said, the region is so vast, disparate, and largely not very metro at all, that Palmer will have to proceed very carefully. 

Cambridge, for example, is a vibrant, economically successful, liberal, staunchly pro-EU, academically minded, high-wage city. It's home to a plethora of huge hi-tech scientific conglomerates, as well as the university – not to mention the thousands upon thousands of people who are desperate for day-to-day solutions to issues from how rubbish the busses are to how sky-high the rents are getting. 

Peterborough is a very different story. It's a eurosceptic city, with industry centred on logistics and retail – a place where out-of-town sprawling retail parks are much more likely than out-of-town sprawling laboratories. 

There's a very good piece on how different the two cities are here, from Jeremy Cliffe. Have a read. 

Then throw in an army of villages – and, more terrifyingly, villagers – and the whole thing's a mess. 

While James Palmer may nominally only have bad buses, a bit of pollution, and slightly low goods exports to deal with, he has a huge challenge on his hands. 

He must somehow find a way to serve the two extremes of his 'metro' region – and the rural interests stuck in the middle – which will often have needs and demands that are totally at odds. 

Rather you than me, Jim. 

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A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?

Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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