Cereste Warns of Dire Consequences if Solar Plans Thwarted

cereste_again17:08 Monday 24th February 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]ETER SWAN: Let’s begin then with Peterborough City Council, because they’re set to invest millions of pounds into an ambitious project including an energy farm, despite being urged not to. They’ve decided to ignore recommendations by their own Rural Scrutiny Commission not to build a solar farm at the America Farm site, arguing that the figures do add up. The Council face a nineteen million pound gap in their 2015/2016 budget, and they’re confident the combination of solar and wind farms at three sites across the city could help to protect vital services from the inevitable cuts to come. Well I spoke earlier to Council Leader Marco Cereste, who explained the reasons as to why they’re still planning to go ahead.
MARCO CERESTE: We’ve again gone very carefully through the numbers. The numbers add up, and they seems to be on the surface of it a really really good project. The idea that the Council can’t deliver when everybody else in the country is delivering these projects quite frankly is nonsense. So it is good for the city. We believe it will deliver in excess of £5 million over the project lifetime. And you know those are the sorts of things that we absolutely need to do to make our budgets balance.
PETER SWAN: So the nub of this is the Rural Scrutiny Commission are saying they’re not too keen on the numbers, but you’re saying the numbers are pretty good.
MARCO CERESTE: Yes and I’m saying we’ve gone .. we’ve run the numbers again, right up to date now. The numbers are now right up to date. And we now know that for a .. you know, that they are .. the return is very good, and it is something worth doing for us as a city. So it’s not just about the money.We’d get a really good return. That would help us finance some of these deficits in the budget. But also it’s about being self-sufficient in energy. It’s about having an energy company that can deliver energy at fixed prices to our residents. And it also enables us not to have to put the rates up. So there’s lots of benefits if we can get this right. There are hundreds of companies around the country doing exactly what we are trying to do in America Farm. And they’re doing it very very successfully. Why is there this opinion out there that the Council can’t do it? I don’t understand that.
PETER SWANN: How rigorous do you feel your numbers are? Is there a lot of resource and a lot of research gone into this? Are you pretty confident in them?
MARCO CERESTE: Well we’ve got a really good team. But then of course we’ve got some really top specialists looking at the numbers. A really top specialist looking at the numbers. So I’ve no reason to believe that what they’re .. what they’ve delivered and brought forward to us in the last week or so isn’t absolutely on the .. on the button. So you know and I also know, because as you very well know I’m in .. I’m in .. I’m in the renewable business myself, I know that there are lots of other companies doing the same sort of thing, and getting the same kind of returns. So you know I know what’s going out in .. what’s happening in the market, in the marketplace. So why would .. why would the city not to be able to do the same?
PETER SWAN: You’ve mentioned about the deficit that you’ve got, and a number of factors towards that not least a lack of money coming from central government. Is there any danger that in you’re, you’re obviously keen to make the numbers add up, that that colours your view as so far as this project goes, that you’re almost too keen to make it happen?
MARCO CERESTE: (SQUEAKY VOICE) No no no not at all. I mean you’ll see there’s lots of things we’ve done in the past, and you know they weren’t right, so we didn’t do them. We’ve looked at things in the past. We you know we’re doing lots of other things in the city. It it it’s it is it it is about the Council having to think outside the box. The days when somebody came along with a basket full of money and said to the Council here’s your money, waste it, throw it away, do what you like with it, it doesn’t matter, they’re gone. We’ve gone though the worst economic times this country has known in the last hundred years, and as a city Peterborough has really thrived and prospered through those times. And the reason Peterborough has done that is because we thought outside the box. We’ve delivered all sorts of things that the pete.. the city has needed, and it’s cost our ratepayers nothing.
PETER SWAN: So in essence then, your argument is pretty straightforward. If you don’t find ways of generating extra revenue and extra income, you won’t be able to provide the services or the level of service that people in Peterborough want.
MARCO CERESTE: We will have to start cutting front line services. It’s as simple as that. You probably saw last week in the press and all over the television the court case referring to those girls that were abused in our city and the fantastic work that our social care team did to pick it up early, to take those girls out of abuse, and to make sure those men who were responsible for it be prosecuted. And you know what a fabulous job they did. But that doesn’t come cheap. That cost us as a city a million pounds. And so you know a million pounds I repeat. We don’t have huge huge you know surpluses to use or reserves to use. That million pounds has to come out of revenue. And if we’re going to continue to protect our girls, and our children in our city, those are the sort of costs that we’ve got to face. Now next year we’ve got to find nineteen million pounds. Nineteen million we’ve got to take out of our existing budgets. That is virtually impossible. Unless we generate revenue, the idea of being able to take nineteen million pounds out of our budgets is a nonsense. Not unless we start cutting very seriously our front line services. Who wants us to do that? I don’t want to do it. I’m certain the public doesn’t want to do it. And I’m certain me or you or my family don’t want me to do it, or your family. Because we need those services if we’re going to have a .. if we’re going to have Peterborough to be one of the best cities in the country, those services are important to us all.
PETER SWAN: OK then. So that’s Marco Cereste, the Leader of Peterborough City Council.