Councillors in Cahoots

image09:35 Thursday 17th April 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[A]NDIE HARPER: The Liberal Democrats in Peterborough caused a stir last night after walking out of the City Council meeting. They were protesting against a decision to give five senior officers in the Council pay rises ranging from £10,000 to £30,000 a year. Councillor Darren Fower told the Bigger Breakfast Show why he led the walkout.
DARREN FOWER: I made the point that the whole thing had reached a new level in PottyBorough. I think the phrase I used was obfuscation personified, as far as I’m concerned. Luckily my colleagues supported me. And the only thing we could do at the end of the day was to protest by walking out, and showing our dissatisfaction with what we considered to be a truly truly out of touch, insane idea.
ANDIE HARPER: Darren Fower talking earlier. But is walking out of a meeting the best way of making a political statement? The Liberal Democrat group leader for Peterborough is Nick Sandford, and I’m delighted to say he joins me now. Nick, good morning to you.
NICK SANDFORD: Morning Andie.
ANDIE HARPER: Was much thought given to how you would register your protest? Or was this something which just happened off the cuff, almost?

NICK SANDFORD: No, it was something that we’d thought about before the meeting. Because one of the frustrating things was that although senior officers’ pay was being talked about at that meeting, the decision to have these massive hikes in the pay of senior officers was actually made at a secret meeting back in February. So we basically came to the conclusion that there was no point really in being at that meeting, and we just decided to make a protest.
ANDIE HARPER: And I suppose in many ways it worked, because it’s attracted interest, whereas perhaps a prolonged debate or people just having their say would not have done.
NICK SANDFORD: Yes, that’s almost certainly true. The other thing was I think there was an element of hypocrisy on behalf of certain opposition councillors there, the people from the Independent group in particular, for their representative on this committee back in February had actually voted to support these very large increases in pay. And yet they were there at the meeting protesting about it. So they’d have been far better to have protested at the time when they could have made a difference.
ANDIE HARPER: Was it the size of the pay rises that was really what stuck in the craw, or was it the fact that they were just receiving pay rises anyway? Was it the amount that really caused the issues?
NICK SANDFORD: Well certainly it isn’t just myself and LibDem colleagues who are angry about this. I’ve been receiving emails. Other councillors had emails. I’ve had people telephone me about it. There’s angry people on Facebook and Twitter. Just to give you an idea of what’s been happening, one particular officer who was already on £120,000 has had a pay rise of £20,000, and also had an extra £30,000 payment because his pay has been backdated for three and a half years. All of this happening at a time when the Council’s making the most draconian cuts in services that we’ve seen in all the time that I can remember. And when ordinary Council employees and ordinary people out there are maybe not getting a pay rise at all, or just getting a very small one.
ANDIE HARPER: Were your party ever to be in charge of the Council, would you rescind these sort of pay grades?
NICK SANDFORD: It’s quite difficult to rescind a pay rise once you’ve actually given it to somebody. We would certainly want to look at the pay policy as a whole, and we would want to come up with something that is not going to give pay rises of this size. I was on this Employment Committee that as I say was meeting in secret, and we went through a whole process of reviewing the senior officer management structure, drawing up new pay scales, and it became obvious to me part way through the process where we were heading. And so I wasn’t really that surprised when we got to the point when these pay scales were actually resulting in people getting 10% pay rises, 20% pay rises. So I think the whole pay policy and the whole pay scale needs to be completely re formed.
ANDIE HARPER: Do you think it shows Peterbroough in a bad light? I saw Peterborough once again referred to as PottyBorough in a national paper yesterday off another story. Darren there mentioned Pottyborough. Do you think it just shows the Council to be out of touch?
NICK SANDFORD: Well I think PottyBorough was a phrase that Private Eye magazine came up with about four or five years ago on an entirely different issue. I think there’s a lot of positive things happening in Peterborough, particularly on the environmental policy, which is something else we were talking about last night. But the Council’s really got to be conscious of the fact that in an economic recession, when people are getting hardly any pay rises, if they push through these massive pay rises for senior officers, they’ve got to be conscious of the impact that’s going to have, and the storm of protest it’s going to cause.
ANDIE HARPER: It’s been really good to talk to you Nick. Thank’s for joining us, and have a good Easter.
NICK SANDFORD: Thank you very much and the same to you.
ANDIE HARPER: That’s Liberal Democrat Group Leader for Peterborough Nick Sandford.