10:39 Monday 4th January 2016
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL STAINTON: On the subject of this idea that’s on the front of the Peterborough Telegraph this morning, a new Eastern super-council, apparently talks are going to get underway soon which will encompass Peterborough and Cambridgeshire and Norfolk and Suffolk and Fenland and bring all that together. On the subject of that Pete says “I’m in favour of it all in consolidation Paul. Less management, an economy of scale for procurement. It can only be a good thing. Besides, living in Fenland we are ignored. Everything goes to Cambridge, so we have nothing to lose here.” says Peter. Do we need a revamp as to how our county, and Fenland of course as well, and Peterborough are governed? Council bosses in Cambridgeshire have been told that the county is too small to be given devolved powers from the Government. So it’s no good Peterborough and Fenland and Cambridgeshire county councils teaming up. Too small. It could mean that we have to buddy up with Norfolk or Essex or Suffolk, and get all those extra powers. Well the news has left one councillor, a former County Council Leader Martin Curtis, to call for a complete review of how councils are drawn up, and how we’re all governed. Well with me now is Peterborough councillor Charlie Swift. He’s seen it all and more in his years on Peterborough City Council. Morning Charlie.
CHARLES SWIFT: Morning young man.
PAUL STAINTON: Is this the Emperor’s new clothes, or a brand new idea?
CHARLES SWIFT: (LAUGHS) Well we’ve seen it all we’ve heard it all before. It’s six years ago that I was on what was called the East Anglian Economic Planning Council, and that was one gigantic council at that time that represented the whole area for planning in the future. There’s no doubt about it, that local authorities and councils have completely had it. I wrote to every Tom Dick and Harry, Prime Ministers. As you rightly know I am sitting here as a city councillor, but I haven’t got anything that I can identify as a service within the ward I represent that I can represent my constituents on, because everything has now gone out to the private sector, and so that’s it. Now I witnessed in the past the abolishment of the Soke of Peterborough County Council, Huntingdon County Council, the Isle of Ely County Council, Cambridgeshire County Council. I’ve watched the police authority completely disappear . Now we’ve got a Crime Commissioner, and they’re talking with Bedford, Suffolk, Norfolk and every Tom Dick and Harry. You’ve got the Fire Service doing exactly the same. And to be quite truthful and honest and straightforward about it, there’s no need for half of the councils that exist today. Two thirds of them could disappear overnight.
PAUL STAINTON: So councillors and councils are a waste of time.
CHARLES SWIFT: No not a complete waste of time, but (unclear) are bleak. The statutory powers have all been taken away from them. They’re dictated to. Education now has got to be, everything is dictated from head office and all the bag of tricks. So there is a case for a large amalgamation of the local authorities. Here we are in a few weeks time in Peterborough, increasing our councillors to 60, and they’ve got nothing to do. It’s a scandalous wicked waste of money. And you’ve got the Government talking about reducing from 650 to 600, and increasing the membership of councillors, where I sit here just drawing money for doing nothing.
It’s a sham.
PAUL STAINTON: I appreciate your frankness this morning Charlie, I really do. But people will say, look, if we do away with the majority of local council officials and councillors, and we amalgamate into one big super council, where’s the local accountability going to come in?
CHARLES SWIFT: Well where is the local accountability now to be quite truthful about it? The demonstration of a cabinet system has proved that ten people in Peterborough can do everything, because the other 47 councillors have got nothing to do at all. And let’s be quite frank about it, in this modern technological age that we’re living in now, you can press a button and you can talk to Norfolk, Suffolk. And my constituents now don’t have to contact a local council. They just press a button and go direct to the provider, don’t they?
PAUL STAINTON: So what is the answer here then? That we can do away with most councillors? We can amalgamate most councils?
CHARLES SWIFT: I think we should start off with amalgamating back to what it was now, Cambridgeshire. There should only be one council for the whole of Cambridgeshire. Then you could get down to talking about .. But of course half of these so-called monies being delegated authority from Westminster, that’s all a lot of bunkum is the word really.
PAUL STAINTON: I was worried.
CHARLES SWIFT: It’s all a lot of nonsense to be quite truthful about it. It’s a sham.
PAUL STAINTON: So you think it’s smoke and mirrors anyway.
CHARLES SWIFT: It is. It is.
PAUL STAINTON: And they’re dictating to councils. They’re dictating to people how things are run. So effectively we could do away and save a fortune, right now, by amalgamating councils and ditching a lot of local councils.
CHARLES SWIFT: Yes you could do it overnight to be quite truthful about it. If I had to pack up now and get out of this chair and go as a consultant I could earn myself a multi-million pound. But I could save the ratepayers millions at the same time.
PAUL STAINTON: Well there’s some forthright talking from councillor Charlie Swift in Peterborough, who says most councils and most councillors a complete waste of time. They have no power. They can’t do anything. There’s no local accountability. The power is in the hands of the few, and not of the many that you democratically elected.