Darren Fower LibDem Leader talks to the BBC’s Paul Stainton about the new Peterborough Cabinet posts and other political topics from a Liberal Democrat viewpoint. Broadcast at 08:35 on Wednesday 19th May 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
STAINTON: Now on yesterday’s show we heard from Peterborough City Council Leader Marco Cereste, many times, as he announced his Cabinet for the next term in office. We’ve already heard from the Cabinet Member for the Environment this morning, Samantha Dalton. There was also a new role for former Mayor Irene Walsh as Marco explained.
CERESTE: (TAPE) We’ve had two new Cabinet Members. One is Councillor Samantha Dalton who will look after the Environment and the Environment Capital portfolio and the other is Councillor Irene Walsh and she will look after Women’s Enterprise, Community Cohesion, HR, Health and Safety and so on.
STAINTON: (STUDIO) The other big change of course is that Marco Cereste will now look after the portfolio for Growth and Strategic Development for the city. Councillor Darren Fower is the Leader of Peterborough’s Liberal Democrats and joins us now. Good morning Darren.
FOWER: Good morning Paul.
STAINTON: You must be disappointed in this new era of collegiate politics, of coalition politics, that not one Liberal Democrat was invited in to this Peterborough Cabinet.
FOWER: Well it was disappointing, and again this year we stood up, and we made the point that as one of the smallest local authorities in the country we thought it made absolutely no sense whatsoever, and didn’t consider it fair to the local taxpayer, that we had the maximum number of Cabinet posts, which in essence means a handful of Conservative councillors get a significant amount of dosh on top of their basic salary.
STAINTON: Yes. I mean what do you make of the changes?
FOWER: Well again if we look at the position, you spoke about earlier on regarding the Cabinet Member for the Environment. Our chap, for example, Councillor Nick Sandford, has got a very very good reputation regarding the environment, and campaigning, he’s got a track record, he works for the Woodland Trust etcetera, and so then to appoint an accountant in that role I think is quite questionable.
STAINTON: Do you have faith in the changes? Do you have faith in the new Cabinet?
FOWER: At the moment no, because, again, we did raise this point at the Council meeting the other night, and as always we were told that they work harder than anybody else in the city and they totally justify the allowances, all this sort of thing, which is obviously their veiewpoint, but not one that I share. And I think there’s a lot of people in our city who work very hard and do a lot of hours, but don’t receive the benefits. For example, again mentioning this Cabinet member for the Environment, well, she may say that she’s keen to improve our city, she still makes use of her free car park pass. Which is a bit of a contradiction I think, because people in these positions do need to lead by example.
STAINTON: At least though Darren she is a Cabinet Member based north of the river.
FOWER: Well yes, she’s the only one. We’ve got to this point where from Thorpe Road up to North Werrington there’s no Conservative councillors in the Cabinet, which means that a large section of our city dare I say it are slightly underrepresented.
STAINTON: I’m just looking down the jobs that everyone’s got, because obviously Marco’s going to do everything he can on his own.
STAINTON: Irene Walsh has taken up some of Matthew Lee’s jobs. So has Marco. Vivacity run the Culture and Leisure facilities. Is Matthew Lee going to be doing some painting or something? What’s he going to be doing?
FOWER: That’s a very good point you’re making Paul, because I think most of your listeners will be aware that recently the Council handed over things like the museum and the libraries to a trust, which means that a large section of that portfolio, that responsibility, is now being dealt with by somebody else. So again we ask the question why are you still getting paid the same amount of money, when you have less responsibility?
STAINTON: The answer was …?
FOWER: Oh we were told that obviously there is other work that they do, and that they work harder than anybody else, and they totally justify that. At one point Councillor Cereste claimed he works ninety hours a week, which is impressive if true.
STAINTON: On the subject of Marco Cereste, and the subject of Opportunity Peterborough, are you shocked at the news that Steve Compton has stood down from his post at Opportunity Peterborough?
FOWER: No. Simple. No.
FOWER: Well you’ve done well on your show, for example, raising the points, the questions that people on the street are asking. We’ve got this incident regarding this graffiti for example, and I don’t have any knowledge, prior knowledge about this I can assure you.
STAINTON: You’re not in the frame?
FOWER: I’m not in the .. well I’m not aware that I’m in the frame. I might get a call later on I guess. But in all seriousness it does show the opinion, the strength of opinion that people have in regards to what I think a lot of people consider quite a significant failure within our city.
STAINTON: We don’t advocate graffiti, and getting up there is very dangerous, and it costs a lot of money to clear.
FOWER: Of course.
STAINTON: But you’re right. In which other city would somebdy climb all the way up to the top of the Norwich and Peterborough, and spray “city council fails, sorry”. There must be a strength of feeling out there.
FOWER: Oh there is. I have people coming to my surgeries for example, and obviously I represent South Werrington and North Gunthorpe, and yet they still come and they talk about the issue of Cathedral Square, and how disappointed they are, and all I can do as a Liberal Democrat is to show examples where we have continued to argue where these errors have been made, and fight on their behalf. Again, echoing the comments that people like yourself have made Paul.