Cllr Anna Smith
City Councillor for Coleridge and Labour Leader
My name is Anna, and I am standing as a candidate for the City Council in Coleridge ward on May 6th.
I was elected as a city councillor for Coleridge in 2021, having previously been a councillor for Romsey since 2015. I am also currently Leader of the City Council and the Executive Councillor for Communities.
After university in Oxford I came to Cambridge to train as a teacher and stayed. I was a History/Classics/Archaeology teacher and middle leader at Hills Road Sixth Form College for 13 years, specialising in pastoral support and guidance. Then I went on to be Deputy Head at Parkside Federation, teaching in Coleridge and Parkside and setting up Parkside Sixth. Now I work as an education adviser.
My Dad was an electrician, and he had to give up work when he got ME. So I grew up on benefits, watching my parents do everything they could to make the money go as far as possible, and knowing how much my Dad would have done anything to be well enough to work again. And then I turned on the TV and watched Tory politicians calling people on benefits ‘shirkers’, and I got such a sense of the injustice of these privileged people telling my amazing Dad he was no good. And from that moment on I knew I wanted to fight for social justice and support for the most vulnerable. It’s why I went into teaching, and it’s why I’m a socialist.
How did I become a councillor? I turned up! I started to get more and more angry about the coalition policies (and especially angry about how a so-called progressive party, the Lib Dems, were facilitating austerity in that coalition). So I thought I really ought to get more involved in helping Labour in Cambridge. I went along to a curry night run by Coleridge Ward, where I live, expecting to maybe deliver some leaflets. But I got approached by another councillor, suggesting I might like to apply to stand for the council. And I thought, you know, I’d love to, and I think I’ve got things I can contribute, but I didn’t think it was really for people like me who hadn’t spent years working their way up through a political party. It just goes to show that you need to give people a bit of encouragement sometimes.
What motivates me is serving my community. I can’t afford not to work full time, so I arrange my councillor duties around that. That’s a lot of work, but what keeps me going is the privilege of being asked by residents to represent them and stand up for them. And being able to make a difference. Whether that’s getting someone a new accessible shower, or signing off the giving out of our community grants, it’s great to know you are making a difference. And if I’m ever feeling a bit demoralised, I look at our annual Labour Councillors’ report, which is basically a huge list of the brilliant projects we’ve funded and supported over the year. And I feel really proud to have contributed to that. I’ve worked in Cambridge since I trained as a teacher (though like many people it took me a few years to be able to afford to live here as well as work here) so it’s particularly special to represent a city that has been such a big part of my life for such a long time.
Without a doubt, I’m most proud as a councillor of being being part of the amazing city-wide pandemic support effort over the last 12 months. It’s been remarkable how the whole city (mutual aids, voluntary groups, volunteers, faith groups, businesses) has come together to ensure everyone gets help and no-one has to go hungry. As portfolio-holder for communities I’ve had the privilege of working closely without our amazing officer team, and I couldn’t be prouder of how the council has played its part in supporting that, setting up support networks, offering staff, and providing funds. There are so many people, both within and beyond the city council who simply can’t be thanked enough.
My portfolio includes Bereavement Services (which runs the council cemeteries and crematorium) and one of the things that gives me enormous satisfaction is that we’ve got rid of funeral fees for under 15s at our facilities. Child bereavement is such a terrible thing, and I’m so proud that we were able to do something that could make a real difference to a grieving family. I’m also in charge of the anti-poverty strategy and the community grants fund. We brought in the anti-poverty strategy when we came to power in 2014, and even though we now get zero government grant, we still fund so much work to help alleviate poverty and inequality in the city, including tens of thousands of pounds worth of community grants to organisations helping those in most need. And even before the pandemic, we’d set aside funding to support a central food hub for the city. It’s a privilege to be part of that, to ensure it continues to be prioritised, and to work with such an amazing group of officers. I know that none of us will rest whilst there is still poverty and inequality in this apparently wealthy city.
To have been the group with the heavy responsibility of leading a city through the unprecedented times of the last year has been a huge weight, but it’s also been a privilege to have played our part in the city-wide effort. In particular, I know how much work has gone on behind the scenes, not visible, and not shouted about, but really important nonetheless.
Beyond the pandemic, I’m proud of the money we are putting into anti-poverty initiatives, of our anti-homelessness work, and of our commitment to food justice. And of the way that everyone is so committed to decarbonising our city. And I want to give a special mention to former councillor George Owers and current councillors, Richard Robertson and Mike Davey, who have been three exceptional finance exec councillors, and who have made it possible for us to protect our services during government austerity measures and funding cuts to local government.
I’ve lived in Coleridge ward since I finally managed to afford to move to Cambridge about 15 years ago, and I taught at Coleridge and Parkside for 5 years too, as well as working with young people from the ward when I was teaching at Hills Road. Quite simply, it’s my home, and it’s going to be my home for a very long time, because my husband I have now bought a house here.
Coleridge is a wonderful place to live, with the Rec at its heart, brilliant schools, and some terrific community groups, local businesses and faith groups. But I know, through years of living and working here, and through my work as exec councillor for communities, that there is a lot of need here too. And I want to be a champion for everyone in the ward, especially the most vulnerable, making sure that everyone has a voice. That’s why I’m standing for re-election to the City Council here.