Darren Fower Liberal Democrat councillor comments on the news that Peterborough City Council may have lost £2 million in Icelandic investments. Broadcast at 08:25 on Monday 18th January 2010 in the Paul Stainton Breakfast Show with Andy Gall on BBC Radio Peterborough.
AG: Many of us are striving to get out of the red, but how is the City Council doing at getting back the three million it lost in the Icelandic banks collapse? John Harrison is Head of Strategic Finance. Earlier we spoke to him and he explained how much money the council would get back. (TAPE)
JH: Got about a million of the three million back, and we expect to get a lot more over the coming years.
AG: “Coming years” and “a lot more”. This is a bit vague, how many years is “coming years”?
JH: Could be several years. In particular (indecipherable) with the KSF bank. Banks lend money to the businesses, and the businesses did nothing wrong, so they’ll be repaying their loans. So until the money comes back from these businesses it can’t get paid back out. (LIVE)
AG: That’s John Harrison, Head of Strategic Finance. But the LibDems dispute that. And Darren Fower is the Leader of the party in the city and joins us now. Good morning Darren.
DF: Good morning Andy.
AG: I don’t think you dispute that he’s John Harrison. But you do dispute what he says.
AG: What’s your issues with what you heard then?
DF: Well it’s just fantastically infuriating, the blase attitude of senior council officers in regards to a significant amount of local taxpayers’ money being lost. At the very least it’s a million. That’s the very least. And as you asked correctly, when are we going to see some action, some good news?
AG: It is funny, especially in this climate where people are struggling obviously with finance, that you hear such a glib response. And I think you’re right, it was quite ..
DF: I think it’s worth noting as well the line that the Council are playing, which is “we weren’t the only one’s that made a mistake.” Yes but there were authorities, like Brighton, who pulled their money out. I’ve got an uncle who even heard a rumour and pulled his money out, and did alright, thank you very much. So Peterborough City Council, with a team of qualified in inverted commas individuals who know about finance and fiscal things make mistakes.
AG: So what would you like to have heard John say there?
DF: I’d like to see him say, quite simply, sorry. I think your listeners, and people in Peterborough, should be very angry that somebody, an individual supported by senior councillors, and members of staff, has lost, by taking a punt, a million pounds of your money.
AG: Because you hear so many stories in the news that just frustrate us about finance and banking systems, and how we the public are having to lick the wounds of these people.
DF: Yes. It’s also not gone unnoticed that when you spoke to John, he was talking about the fact that the Council has made some money on interest, and obviously that’s other investments as well, that’s worth noting. But they do lose money, and it’s like the Peterborough United money, it’s like the incinerator money, they’re going to borrow it. And when you asked Marco Cereste, where’s the money coming from, dare I say he gave you a bit of a side response. He didn’t exactly tell you. He’s going to have to find it from somewhere, but at the monent … newsflash …
AG: A lot of these claims, they’re quite aspirational claims, aren’t they?
DF: Yes they are. It’s good to have aspirations, but you’ve also got to be realistic on the serious issues. And right now we’ve got a downturn in the economy, we’ve got eleven thousand applicants on the housing waiting list, we’ve got a city centre that, dare I say, is not looking too great, especially that Cathedral Square. I’ve just walked through now, with the pavement already starting to look quite bad. It isn’t good. And our council tax is going to go up again come April. So where’s the justification for the value of money?
AG: And they’ve budgeted into the council tax the impact of the losses ..
DF: Yes they’ve got to make …, they’ve got to sell stuff. They’ve got to sell some silverware. That’s the bottom line.
AG: So apart from hearing him being a bit more genuine about apologising about what happened, do you want to see proper big changes in the way they structure themselves?
DF: I think we need to see a greater clarity. It’s all very well talking about budgets etc, but how many people even know where to go to find out the information? We need to see these details printed on their home page of the website, put in a manner that’s easy to read for example, because I can tell you there’s city councillors who have trouble understanding this, and dare I say Joe Public on the street is going to find it hard. But it is their money that’s being supposedly managed, and in this situation, lost. So it is definitely within their interests to show some sort of attention to this matter.
AG: I think for public relations as well, because there’s so many people .. if you speak to people in the street they would probably say that they’re very cynical about Council.
DF: Well you talk about public awareness and public relations for example, the City Council now has a media machine that costs over a million pounds. It’s gone up again this year. So for all the press releases to tell everybody how great they are, it’s costing the taxpayer there again a million pounds. So perhaps one idea there would be to back to the old days where they had one press officer who did a very good job, and communicated with the local media, and it worked, and save themselves a million pounds there, perhaps.
AF: Okay so you could argue that they’re just overcomplicating things.
DF: They are. It’s all about complexifying. The bottom line is if you gave me three pounds, and then a week later I gave you two pounds back, you’d say, Darren, I’m not very happy with that. And I would say, Andy, it’s not my fault, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. The other bloke I borrowed three pounds off, I actually made some money for him. But you’d be saying, well I’ve lost, and I’m like, well.. and I’m not even saying sorry. You would get a bit infuriated and think, that’s not right.
AG: Yes. Rightly so. And Darren, thank you very much for talking to us this morning.
DF: My pleasure.
AG: That’s Darren Fower Leader of the LibDems here in Peterborough.