David Jenkins steps down: the end of an era

Socially distanced with Ros Hathorn on Histon Green

HI Hub (www.hihub.info) is a community website for the village of Histon & Impington. It recently ran an article about me not standing for re-election this year. It’s quoted below. Click here if you want to read it on HI Hub.

The Lib Dem candidate to replace me if elected is Ros Hathorn. There’s more information about Ros and her campaign at http://bit.ly/ros4hiop.

During my ‘interview’ we also rehearsed the reason why I became a Lib Dem but HI Hub decided, probably correctly, that it would be inappropriate to publish it. In case anyone is interested here it is!’

You’re a Lib Dem. Why?

I guess the clue is in the name: Liberal Democrat. I do subscribe to some fairly relaxed views regarding personal freedoms but I also recognise that with freedom comes responsibility and that we’ve all got to accept that responsibility otherwise society’s going to be pretty shabby. That’s where the democrat bit comes in because I’ve got a pretty fundamental belief in everyone having a fair chance and no single person or group of people having the right to take advantage of others. Add to that a belief that we’ve got to take care of the environment which I’ve held for a long time and the fact that I’m a died in the wool European and my choice seems pretty natural.

You could also ask ‘why not the others?’ and that’s interesting because today it’s much easier to answer that than it would have been some years ago. I had some sympathy for the Labour Party of John Smith and Neil Kinnock and still get on well with some Labour councillors at the County Council and with friends locally who are members. However I can never forgive Labour for its ‘have it both ways’ position on Europe and the influence of the unions probably does both institutions a disservice.

The Tory party has gone through even more of a change especially in the last decade. It seems to have become even more the party of vested interests and has taken a position that the future of the party is more important than that of the country. Obviously its position on the EU is one that I can never accept because of the harm which it will do and in fact is already doing to this country.

The HI Hub article now follows. I’ve added a few photographs.

As David Jenkins prepares to step down as a Cambridgeshire County Councillor, he tells Liz Hill about the highs and lows of a role he has held for the past 16 years. 

After 16 years representing Histon & Impington on Cambridgeshire County Council, David Jenkins is calling it a day. A LibDem Councillor since 2005, he will not be standing as a candidate in the elections in May.

Now 73, he arrived in the village in 1997 after a long career in the oil and chemical industries had taken him around the world. But having lived in London, Cheshire, New York, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Switzerland, he is adamant that Histon & Impington is “the best place to live in the world.”

But why stand for election? There are easier ways to engage with the local community.

“I don’t really know why, except that it was not down to any driving political ambition,” he explained. “At the time of the 2005 election I had just become self-employed so I had some flexibility in managing my time and I guess I just said yes when someone asked me if I’d stand.” But he reflects: “I became a councillor without any serious thought. I had no idea if I’d get elected or what I was letting myself in for if I did!”

David had stood for election once before, in Cheshire in 1996, but had missed out by just five votes. Although he came second in the poll in his first Cambridgeshire election, there were two seats available for members from this area at the time, so he was duly elected.

Making things happen

The contributions that councillors make to the community are so often hidden from view, but are nonetheless vital, and David has been at the heart of decision-making around some of the most visible developments in the village in recent years.

The campaign to save the Histon station building. That’s me bottom left with Abi

“Saving the Histon Station building, ensuring that we retain our library and getting the new primary school built have all been significant achievements”, he said. “Then there are the road schemes including the improvements outside the St Andrew’s Centre, the widening of the B1049 junction, the narrowing of the Cottenham Road junction with the B1049 and of the Baptist Church junction, and the improvement to the Co-op junction which has delivered a zebra crossing and a much safer footpath outside the store.”

Getting these things to happen isn’t always easy, and influencing the right people counts for a lot – especially with the day-to-day issues that arise. “The relationship I’ve built up with the Highways Engineers have been invaluable,” he explained. “I’ve got them on speed dial and generally speaking they’ve been very responsive to issues such as dangerous potholes and gully clearance. The B1049 was flooded five or six years ago but despite the heavy rains in January this year and record floods elsewhere in Cambridgeshire, we seem to have escaped the worst.”

There have also been social care issues, thankfully not many, but by definition he can’t talk about these except in general terms.

Challenges and rewards

There has been a lot more to his role than simply dealing with floods and getting potholes filled, and David has held two positions that involved a lot more than the day-to-day work of a councillor.

The Lib Dem group after the 2009 elections when we won 23 seats

He explained: “Two years after I was elected, Julian Huppert – who went on to become Cambridge’s MP – stood down as LibDem group leader, and it was suggested that I take over the challenge of leading a group of 23 councillors. It was like herding cats! But it did have its rewards. I did that job for three years and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities it gave to mix in somewhat more elevated political circles.”

Some years later, when the Council was under no overall control and all the parties were involved in running it, he became Chair of the Health Committee.

“It was a largely non-political committee and I managed to get through the two years that I was Chair without ever voting, much less using a casting vote. We were very much a consensus committee.

“We spent a lot of time building positive relationships with Addenbrookes and the local Clinical Commissioning Group, playing the role of critical friend. It was at the time of Addenbrookes’ new IT system and a damning inspection report from the Care Quality Commission. We did our bit to help by bringing together all the other players in the local health economy to support Addenbrookes to get its act together – which it did.

A learning experience

He may have fallen into the role of Councillor with his eyes closed, but David soon learnt that councils operated in way unlike anything he had experienced before: “My experience in business meetings was poor preparation for council meetings,” he said. “There’s a formula to follow: listen attentively to what’s going on; patiently wait for your turn; and finally, when you do get to speak, get your thoughts sorted and express yourself as succinctly and persuasively as you can. I was pretty rubbish at first but I reckon I’ve got better.”

He also learnt about the formality in the relationship between an ‘officer’ and a ‘member’, especially in public. But this, he says, doesn’t have to get in the way of easy communication. “Officers have a job to do and if you make it easy for them it’ll be to your advantage. Knowing their phone numbers and being able to talk to them in real time is a lot more effective than adding more emails to their inboxes.”

So given these experiences, what advice would he give to his successor? “First and foremost, don’t forget that your primary obligation is to the residents in the community. Be available to them, be active on their behalf, be accountable to them, and keep them informed about what you do and what’s going on.

“But having said all that, don’t over-volunteer. It’s easy to be sucked into agreeing to sit on multiple committees, working parties and task forces. Resist and protect your work/council/ life balance.”

Unfinished business

Unsafe, non-compliant and not fit for purpose. JDJ waiting to cross in the north east quadrant

Does he have any regrets on leaving the County Council? Just one. “The community wasn’t well served by Highways England from the felling of the trees, through the noise of the night-time operations to the limited access that it now gets to the A14 northbound. We tried hard to work with them and I was pleased to get a wider cycle/footpath at the northeast crossing point on the A14/B1049 junction, despite previous claims that it wouldn’t be possible. But I couldn’t get them to see sense on the northeast and northwest crossings, which are unsafe, non-compliant and not fit for purpose. Every time I pass them I’m angry. At a time that we are encouraging bike use we should have done better.”

But David shouldn’t be too hard on himself for that. Asked how he feels about his time on the Council, he said: “I guess I can say I’ve done my bit. We get so much from the communities where we live, it’s good to have the opportunity to give a little back. It’s been rewarding to get things done and just occasionally to sort out people’s problems.

“It’s so easy nowadays to live in a place but not have any real investment in it. I do have an investment in Histon & Impington and it pays me back in terms of the friends I have made, the people I know, and the ones I bump into on the street.”

And of course, this isn’t the end of his involvement with village issues and he’s certainly not ready for slippers and daytime TV. As well as his County Council role, he has been a Parish Councillor for the past eight years and that role will continue. Other plans include visiting more places in the UK, returning regularly to Italy for a top-up of culture, good wine and good food, writing his blog and spending more time on his photography. It may be the end of an era – but there’s a new one on the horizon.

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