John Bone: Counties link would bring a bonus

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Whatever the outcome of the present somewhat stuttering struggle to create a new government alliance of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, it has already raised hopes that, almost as a side issue, a union would liberate Newmarket from the present cat’s cradle of boundaries. If the boundary cannot be drawn rationally, the remedy maybe to abolish it altogether. This is scarcely uppermost in the minds of negotiators but it would be a blessing to the town. On the related issue of creating a regional “mayor” as a three-county figurehead, I propose that the early expression of an eagerness to take on the role should automatically disqualify anyone from becoming a candidate.

n There can be few towns in all her realms with better cause to offer the Queen its grateful greetings on this, her 90th birthday. Whatever Newmarket does for Her Majesty, it cannot match what she has done for Newmarket. She is at home here and greatly loved not only for her grace and service but because she talks the town’s talk. I have seen our Queen in many settings, from the pomp and splendour of St Paul’s Cathedral on a state occasion to taking tea with pensioners in a village hall. But the image of the Queen engraved on my mind, like the action of acid on a copper printing plate, is a short, elderly lady in a flapping brown mac, mingling almost unnoticed by the crowds at a Tattersalls sale, where the horses are much more important than a mere monarch. She was entirely happy with her lot that day and that made us all happy for her. A very happy birthday, ma’am.

n Far from looking like innocent amateurs in commerce, Forest Heath appear to be driving a hard bargain as they toy with investing in the electricity industry. Far from abandoning their Lakenheath solar power farm plan, they are merely waiting to strike a deal where all risks will be taken by their private partners. This is great news for all, except those who have yet to appreciate the peculiar charm of solar farms.

n We hear much talk of the power of institutions. The might of everything from small charities to great international companies, from parish councils to national governments is explored, analysed and respected. We hear much less of a power that holds together the world, surmounts all tribulations, defeats all enemies and extends a helping hand to those outsiders who lack its protection. I speak of the family. One day last week a middle-aged bloke strolled down Newmarket High Street at the end of a 3,000-mile trek that took him round UK racecourses. “My dear old dad brought me here for my 21st birthday,” explained Richard Farquhar. That is why he chose here as the culmination of a £100,000 fundraising campaign to fight the pancreatic cancer that killed his father. Next day a much, much longer journey was completed by a much, much younger bloke, Callum Fairhead, 18-year-old brother of 10-year-old Liam, the Soham schoolboy killed by cancer seven years ago. Callum had pedalled 17,000 miles round the world to net £340,000 to fight cancer. True, hundreds, even thousands, of people unrelated to the Farquahar or Fairhurst clans played their part in these two noble enterprises. But what were the sources of such love, endurance and determination that held the show together? What was the power behind it all? It was the same power that goes almost unheeded in the affairs of nations but is the scaffolding of society. Family. Nor is this power selfish and inward-looking. It ripples through friends to reach strangers who may have no kin of their own. Read the Journal and you will find it quietly work every week in a way that is the envy of politicians, priests and tycoons who fancy they have power.

n The effect of slimming down public service often reminds me of a fat lady wearing a tight girdle. It has to come out somewhere. New bulges appear in unexpected places. Thus, the latest statistic for the beleaguered East of England Ambulance Service shows a 21 per cent increase in emergency calls in the year to March. At the same time A&E services at our hospitals are almost overwhelmed with what are sometimes quite trivial problems. How many 999 and A&E calls could be better and more cheaply handled by a timely call on a GP? Closed or crowded clinics simply produce a shock wave that hits other services.

Since we live in the country’s driest region, any way to eke out precious water is welcome. So it was wise of the Cambridge & Peterborough Enterprise Council to chip in £60,000 to help a small Burwell outfit explore ways to make water go further. Delta T’s idea is a gadget called WET-50 that senses the state of the soil so that our farmers can cultivate more intelligently. That £60,000 may not sound much compared with the sort of sums splashed about by the international innovators but time and again history has shown how little England’s little inventors have big ideas that change the world. My hero, Coke of Holkham, the 18th century East Anglian agricultural pioneer, would have approved of the Burwell gadget.