Paul Stainton interviewing Marco Cereste on BBC Radio Peterborough at 08:10 am on February 25th 2010, icw the controversial budget passed by Council on February 24th 2010.
PS: Well Council Leader Marco Cereste is with us this morning. Morning Marco.
MC: Morning Paul, how are you?
PS: I’m very good. You’re not the most popular man in Peterborough this morning.
MC: Well, there you go,. That’s the problem with being a politician. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.
PS: Some very difficult choices had to be made this year.
MC: Yeah .. very .. well, you know I’m not so sure that that is exactly right. I mean, to be fair everybody’s prot… or the youngsters are protesting about the buses, and to be, to be completely honest there won’t be a single person in this city who, when they need a bus, can’t catch a bus. And, you know, I’ve gone through this with a tooth comb, my Cabinet members have gone through this with a tooth comb, in fact in many places in our city the bus service will be enhanced because there’ll be bus services where there weren’t before. So, I understand that nobody likes change, but the reality of it is, even Cllr Sandford said last night, in council, that if you wanted to catch a bus at ten o’clock at night, from Walton to the Showcase cinema, you might not get one. But as far as I know, that may be the only bus service that has been affected.
PS: Yeah, but but but how do you square ..
PS: … spending money on wi-fi, water taxis, football grounds, and cutting subsidies to school meals.
MC: OK because we can’t constantly … first of all let’s take the school meals. First of all it’s not a service subsidy to school meals. I understand why everybody is worried and I’m as concerned about is as everybody else, but this is not a subsidy. Peterborough City Services tendered for that work. The tender has come to an end. And the schools quite rightly want a new price. The new price, three years later is what it is. Many of the schools actually haven’t used Peterborough City Services any more. And are doing it themselves.
PS: The vast majority do Marco, the vast majority do.
MC: No well that’s not .. again ..that’s what I have .. as I understand it .. there’s lots of schools that have gone out to tender with other people, and getting what they consider to be a better service at a lower price. Now we’re quite happy to talk to any Headmaster, or anyone else in the schools, who wants us to spread best best practice. So in the final analysis this is not about cuts, it’s about a three year contract that’s come to an end, and a new price, based on modern, you know, present wages etcetera etcetera etcetera has been offered. Now that some of the schools have chosen to take it, some of the schools haven’t. If those schools that think that they’re overpaying want us to put them in touch with some of the organisations that can provide really high quality school meals at a better price we were happy to do so.
PS: Yeah I mean you you could have cut council tax further though couldn’t you, I mean we worked out that, you know, for every sixty grand or so that er you save, you can get council tax down by 0.1% so if you cut the money on what some people are calling vanity projects, you could have got council tax down even further, er and help people through these difficult times.
MC: We could have cut services even further and perhaps even given a discount on the council tax and then you and I would be arguing why are you cutting council tax and cutting services.
PS: No I don’t think they want services cutting I think they want these projects like water-taxis, wi-fi, they can wait can’t they?
MC: No no let’s talk about this right. We as a city have an ambition to grow. We need to thrive, and we need to prosper. We need to create better jobs, and we need to bring retail business into the city. We cannot do that unless we do some of these things that actually promote the growth of the city. Wi-fi in the city centre will pay for itself, I am sure, but obviously we have to put it in the budget, because you can’t be, you can’t be certain that it will pay for itselves, so from a technical point of view you have to put the possibility .. the costs in the budget. We are certain that wi-fi, over a period of time will pay for itself, but what it will do, it will attract and enhance the business offering in the city. People will be able to come in, they’ll be able to enjoy our open spaces, they will come in to shop, and improve the quality of life in our city. And that will attract the businesses that you quite rightly keep telling me, we have to attract into the city centre, otherwise we’ll die.
PS: We’ve got to take a break for travel, and we’ll take some listeners’ questions, if that’s all right. Marco Cereste, council leader on the show this morning. back in just a second ..
PS: We’re with council leader Marco Cereste the leader of Peterborough city council. Thanks for holding on Marco. Let me just put a few things to you from some of our listeners this morning.
PS: “I can’t believe the council have gone ahead with everything from the budget meeting last night, and that they would rather see people using the stupid wi-fi than children getting their only hot meal of the day and kids having no transport for school. Kids need the buses and the meal. We don’t want wi-fi and water-taxis or any of the other stupid things they came up with. Where can we now go to the toilet if they’re closing them too.” says Vicki. Debbie in the Ortons says: “Is Marco forgetting the elections in May? Local people are not happy that money is being spent on pretty things and not things that the people want.” You’re not doing the people’s bidding I don’t think Marco, according to our listeners this morning.
MC: And, you know, I have every sympathy with their view, but let’s take the toilets, for example. You know, they say, we’re closing the toilets. Actually what we’re doing, we’re removing a health hazard. You know, there are toilets in the city, particularly the ones that we’re closing at the moment, that we’re anticipating to close at the moment, that are being used by a certain group in our community, for shooting up, drugs, and all the rest of it. The walls are mostly covered in excreta, and every so often we have to send our people in there with special equipment and special facilities, in order to clean them out to make them safe. Now, god forbid, one of our children, were to run into one of those toilets, just escape for a second from a parent, go in there, get themselves .. pick up a syringe or something like that, injure themselves. they could pick up all sorts of horrible nasty diseases, and the public are actually not using those particular toilets, because they are so foul. So the answer is, close those, relook at the whole situation, and then see what we need to do to reprovide.
PS: Keep them clean might be a better answer.
MC: Yeah but you can’t. The whole thing is that you’ve got them .. you’ve got people congregating in there all of the time, doing things that you and I would (cough) feel to be perhaps not the right thing to do. And so we have to deal with that. Now it may well be that we have to think of putting in these new types of loos, or whatever. But those toilets have got to go. Now I accept that completely, that it appears on the surface that what we’re doing is closing the toilet. What we’re doing is getting rid of a health hazard, which we desperately need to get rid of, and whilst we look at an alternative. You know. And the school meals: I said about the school meals, if there are schools where they believe their costs have gone up, where it may be difficult, then let’s all talk. Let’s see if we can put them in touch with people with other organisations that can provide the school meals at a cost that they the schools can afford. This is not a subsidy for school meals. This was City Services, providing a tender. When they re-tendered, the price had to go up because of wage costs, because of pension costs, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And don’t forget, the meals (cough) have been fixed for three years. So, you know, it’s not a reduction, it’s just the way that business works.
PS: Adrian says …
MC: Let’s take wi-fi. And let’s take water taxis. Water taxis, I spoke to the leader of South Holland District Council yesterday. He tells me that it’s one of the most successful schemes they’ve ever had. It doen’t cost the council a single penny. And what the water taxi does, it takes up to five thousand cars a year off the roads.
PS: But it is costing us a single penny, isn’t it. It’s costing us quite a few pennies.
MC: Well it’s going to cost us thirty thousand pounds to do a feasibility. But that’s not just a feasibility on the water taxis, that’s a feasibility on cleaning up and seeing what can be done with our river. Which I would have thought everybody would want to have, a nice clean river, and to see what best use we can use for one of the best features that we have in the city. Any other spend beyond (cough) the feasibility study will have to be paid for by external funding, and not a single penny will come from the Peterborough city council pot.
PS: Adrian says: “cutting services and putting up council tax, that’s ridiculous.”
MC: Well I accept we don’t want to put council tax up. Nobody wants to put council tax up. But I come back to you and I say we haven’t cut services. There isn’t, you know, this is political, and I understand, we’re coming up to an election and the other parties have got to say what they’ve got to say. But I repeat, what would appear as a lost subsidy to the schools, is actually re-tendering after three years where schools have had a fixed price, for delivering that service. You know, the water taxis is not a way of spending money. It’s a way of spending money now, to save money tomorrow. If we as a city want to want to prosper, we all accept, every single person in our city must by now accept, that the next two or three years are going to be incredibly difficult. What we as an administration, as a Conservative administration have to do, is create the basis on which we can sustain growth and wealth. Because we will get our budgets cut. We can .. we all need to accept that our budgets from central government, irrespective of which government comes to power, are going to be cut. The only way we can save services in our city is to create new growth, new wealth, bring in new industry, to bring in extra monies, so that we can protect the services that our people have already. If we don’t do that, then the only option left to us in the future, and think this through carefully, we’ve been told that we can expect as much as a ten per cent cut in our budget. That’s twenty five million pounds. Now our .. we’re arguing over a few hundred thousand in the budget. And we’re facing the possibility of a twenty five million pound cut.
PS: Therefore, Marco, if we’re facing that twenty five million pound cut, is it the right time to be borrowing sixty million pounds to fund all the projects that you’ve got on the go?
MC: Well I think you’ve got, you don’t have a choice with the incinerator. If you don’t build .. if this council doesn’t find an alternative for waste management .. when the tips close, where are we going to put the rubbish? Are we going to do what Naples do, and put it on the streets? If we .. you know .. I don’t want to build an incin .. as you know perfectly well, that I am the chairman of Peterborough Renewal Energy.
PS: Yeah well send it there couldn’t we?
MC: Well you might be able to do that and I can’t be involved that. And if that’s the right thing to do, then the council will do that.
MC: But until such time ..
PS: So we don’t need one then?
MC: Yeah well, all I’m saying to you is you have to have one. Because what will happen in 2013, if we as a council do not have an alternative, to waste landfill, we will face anything up to seven million pound a year fines.
PS: Well we will, we’ve have PREL.
MC: Well if you’ve got PREL, and PREL is functioning, that may be an alternative. But it’s not something for me to say, and it’s not something for me to get involved in, at all.
PS: Are you happy with this budget Marco? Are you happy with it?
MC: I am convinced that this budget is an extremely good budget for the city, and it will help us grow this city, and help us avoid some of the problems that other cities will have, because they’ve buried their heads in the sand.
PS: Let’s .. let’s end this on a lighter note. Lucy says: “If we get water-taxis Marco, will that entice Primark here?”
MC: (Laughs) May very well be. That’s just the sort of thing that businesses do want to see, in order to come into our city.
PS: Tell them it’s coming.
PS: They were all expecting it in Woolies.
MC: Well, you know, it’s only down the side of the river, you know, you’ll be able to come in and out the side of town on the water-taxi and walk across to Primark, if they come.
PS: Mmm. He’s Marco Cereste. He’s the leader of Peterborough city council, and fair play to him, he comes on and fronts up doesn’t he. And does his best to answer the questions, whether you agree with him or disagree with him.