Peterborough City Council have been handed a batch of complimentary tickets for the JLS concert on the Embankment on Sunday 18th July 2010 and councillors are sharing them out amongst themselves. Nick Sandford Leader of the LibDem Group comments. This interview was broadcast at 08:10 on Friday July 9th 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire hosted by Paul Stainton.
PAUL: How would you like to go to the upcoming JLS gig for free? That’s great isn’t it? Sounds brilliant. Only problem is the offer’s only available to Peterborough’s councillors. Peterborough City Council have received a batch of complimentary tickets for the gig and councillors can put their name forward and will get the tickets if their name is drawn out of a hat. Nick Sandford is from the Liberal Democrat group at Peterborough City Council. Will you be getting down with the JLS boys next week Nick?
NICK: No I don’t think I will be actually. I think we do need to recruit more people as councillors, get many more people to put their names forward, but I don’t think this is the way we should be going about it.
PAUL: No. And in these austere times when we’re making people redundant, people are losing their jobs, we’ve just come through the MPs expenses saga, I know it’s only a ticket for a gig, but surely alarm bells should be ringing inside the City Council shouldn’t they?
NICK: I think so. I don’t think a lot of people realise how serious the economic situation is, and the sort of decisions that are going to have to be made. They’re talking about Government departments and local authorities having to make forty per cent cuts, and that’s not just making efficiency savings, that’s making real changes in the services that people receive. And as you say thirty pounds, it’s quite a lot of money for an individual to pay, and in the scale of the Council Budget of two hundred million or whatever it is it’s not a great deal, but it’s symbolic. It’s like the fact that all councillors get free car parking permits that they can use not just on Council business but when they go to Sainsburys and that sort of thing. So everybody’s going to have a lot of pain that we’re going to have to share and I think that Peterborough City councillors have to get serious and start showing that we’re prepared to share in that. We shouldn’t really be in a privileged position.
PAUL: If you brought me in an apple this morning, I would have to declare it. I wouldn’t be able to accept it.
NICK: This is interesting actually, because the councillor’s rules are very stringent. They say that any .. if somebody gives you more than twenty five pounds or something worth more than twenty five pounds there’s a register where you’ve got to declare it. I think that councillors who receive these free tickets, because although they’re free they’re actually thirty pounds, they should have to put that information forward.
PAUL: Did you get the email from the Council?
NICK: I’ve been away to conference for a few days so I need to catch up on emails, so I haven’t actually seen it unfortunately.
PAUL: If councillors have stuck their name in the hat and this does go as far as free tickets being issued to councillors in Peterborough, what do you think the council members should do?
NICK: I think that’s up to individuals really. I’m not going to sit here and say i would criticise Councillor So-and-So for doing whatever. This is something that the council as a corporate organisation should not be participating in. If they have free tickets then they should give them to local charities or give them to children’s groups, because this is a really important concert. This is a very popular group that is based in Peterborough, and I think it’s really great that we’re having this concert, but if free tickets are available they should go to people who are deserving of them.
PAUL: There are people listening to this this morning no doubt who want to go and see JLS next weekend but can’t afford to. If you’ve got a couple of kids, sixty quid and then all the bits and bobs around the edges, you’re talking the best part of a hundred pounds, aren’t you? Which is a lot of money for a lot of people at the moment. What about if they’ve got some free tickets what about having a bit of a lottery for the people of Peterborough, where you don’t have to pay anything? Youy put your name in a big hat, get fifty thousand people in there, it would be great PR for the city, draw it out in the middle of Cathedral Square, it would be brilliant.
NICK: There’s all sorts of things that could have been done. But I have to say when I first got on the Council there was a whole range of these things where councillors used to go to concerts and sit on the front row and get special privileges. It doesn’t happen as much as it has done in the past, but I think in the current economic climate it shouldn’t really be happening at all.
PAUL: What are you allowed to accept? Because I can’t accept anything, from you or anybody else. During the election the Independent MP John Swallow brought some chocolates in. we had to tell him, we can’t accept those mate. Take them away.
NICK: I think the rules are that you can accept things, because obviously people get given things. Somebody might give you something because you’ve provided them with a good service as a councillor, but the rules about openness and transparency are that there’s a public register where they have to be recorded. So I think given that these tickets seem to exceed the threshold for that, that does create quite an interesting situation.
PAUL: Well we invited the Leader of Peterborough City Council Marco Cereste onto the programme this morning but he wasn’t available. The Council did send us this statement. A City Council spokesperson said: ” The event organiser has offered us a small number of tickets for the concert at no cost to the Council, some of which have been offered to City Councillors. A few of the tickets are also being offered to children and young people in the community. Councillors can of course decide to use these tickets for the benefit of their wards.” Let’s hope they do. Nick Sandford from the Liberal Democrats , I just think the Council don’t get it. They really don’t get it.