Independent councillor Charles Swift tells the BBC’s Paul Stainton why he thinks that half the councillors should be sacked. Broadcast at 08:13 on Thursday 8th July 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
PAUL: Now the Leader of the City Council could soon be elected for a four year term. Four more years. Councillors will vote next week on whether Peterborough would, in effect, hold our own General Election once every four years. Currently a third of the city’s fifty seven councillors are voted in each year, with no election in the fourth year of that cycle. And if voted in at a meeting next Wednesday, it could start as early as next May. Darren Fower is the Leader of the LibDem group on the City Council. He’s not happy.(TAPE)
FOWER: From our point of view we’ve talked about this, the Liberal Democrat group on the City Council, and we’ve got three areas of concern. We think that if there was this four year cycle then A, you wouldn’t be able to necessarily hold the administration to account if they had, let’s just say, a bad year. We also recognise that the figures that are being quoted, the three hundred thousand, are based on a perfect world. Anyone out there knows we don’t live in a perfect world, and it doesn’t take into account unexpected by-elections, referendums. (LIVE)
PAUL: Now that’s what Darren Fower had to say about if from the LibDems. Charlie Swift is the Leader of the Independent Forum on the City Council. Morning Charlie. Everything tickety-boo?
CHARLES: Everything’s fine thank you, yes.
PAUL: What’s your reaction to this?
CHARLES: Well my reactions are if they decide next year to have everybody out well of course they’ll get decimated, both Mr Fower’s Party and the Conservative Party. I think we’ll have about forty eight Independents. But, the whole point about it is it’s absolute rubbish talking about I believe there should be elections every third like Darren has said so there’s some accountability. The nitty-gritty of the whole matter is there’s fifty seven councillors now. Forty seven do nothing. We should reduce the Council. We should take advantage next week of the recommendation to have a boundary review in the city, reduce the city councillors from fifty seven to about twenty five or twenty seven, one member ward with five thousand electors each, for them to be represented. That would save three hundred thousand pounds straight away each year, plus about another hundred thousand pound adminsitrative charges. These savings they’re talking about now are peanuts. They don’t count for nothing. The whole fact is that if you look at local government now, particularly in Peterborough, and nationally. We’re hired to sit on a committe yesterday morning and give a licence until four am for drinking, because that is the Government’s policy. And if we’d have gone against it we could have been in the High Court tomorrow charged with going against. So our issue is we’ve got to go back. Where we are handing everything out to private enterprise, we’re destroying local governance. So let’s get it back to what it was when I joined it all those many years ago with people responsible. Get rid of the lobby fodder that we’ve got. With the greatest respect now forty seven out of the .. you’ve only got ten councillors that are running the Council now haven’t you? You’ve got eight Cabinets. I think the Leader should be elected for four years to give him an opportunity. Someone just said to me they’re blaming Mr Marco Cereste for the fountains in Cathedral Square. But they were put there by John Peach weren’t they?
PAUL: And others.
CHARLES: And others. The whole issue of local government now .. and if you’re going to get rid of fifty Members of Parliament and reduce the size of the constituencies, well it should be universal. It should be exactly the same in local government. There’s fifty to sixty per cent, with the greatest respect, of councillors throughout the whole of local government in England Ireland Scotland and Wales, that are not doing anything. Even .. you get the councillors. You’ve got about six prodders on the Council that are doing all the adoption committees, licensing committees and everything during the daytime, because nobody else can do them. And that’s run by the geriatric brigade like myself.
PAUL: How many councillors would it take to run Peterborough effectively and represent the people effectively? Are you saying twenty five?
CHARLES: Twenty five to twenty seven. Five thousand per councillor, one member wards. And what I repeat, and I know people get peed off with it, and you might as well, but it makes me sick when I go in that Council Chamber now when everything was administered from the Town Hall, what have we got now? We’ve got the Town Hall, we’ve got Bayard Place, we’ve got Manor Park, we’ve got where Opportunity Knocks at Peters Court. We’re lousy and duplicated all over the place. It’s blooming near time we got our fingers out and .. If they’re having a damn good sort out at national level because they’ve got no money in the kitty let’s have a damn good sort out at local level as well.
PAUL: Peed off’s not a phrase I’ve heard for a while. Thank you for bringing that back Charlie. Historically how many councillors have we had in the city? Have we got more now than we’ve ever had?
CHARLES: Oh Christ Almighty yes. I said to you we only had twenty seven when I went on the Council. We built the schools. We was in charge of the police. We was in charge of every function from cradle to grave. Now you’ve been on about this Gayhurst. Well the fact there is that the Homes and Communities Agency have just refused and said they’ve no money for Stanground. We’ve had to put two and a half million pounds of City Council money into Stanground to build fifty ruddy what’s called affordable houses. And yet you’ve got this kerfuffle with the Homes and Communities Agency, they can’t build the affordable houses at Gayhurst, which was the Civil Defence Headquarters right the way through the war. There’s a fabulous history on the place itself. But you’ve got six agencies dealing with the building of a council house now where one dealt with it years ago.
PAUL: Far too many layers. Far too much money spent. You can save three hundred grand at a swipe.
CHARLES: I can save three hundred grand at a stroke. If you want to appoint Charles Swift as a consultant free of charge I’ll save you a couple of million tomorrow.
PAUL: Charlie Swift Independent councillor, Leader of the Independent Forum on the City Council.