Serious questions are being raised, after it was announced that the Leader of Peterborough City Council Marco Cereste has added the Chairmanship of Larkpoint, specialists in healthcare and retirement living development, and who are engaged in land development in Peterborough, to his long list of outside interests. In essence the claim is that he has too many jobs, too closely interwoven, to carry out his public duties in a proper manner. Councillor Cereste denies this, and says that in any case Leader is a part-time job, and he needs the money.
07:10 Friday 26th November 2010
Peterborough Breakfast Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
PAUL STAINTON: Now as you will have heard in the news this morning, concerns have been raised over a new appointment involving the Leader at Peterborough City Council. Marco Cereste, who’s also in charge of growth and strategic development in this city, has been appointed Chairman of a joint venture between two housing developers. But it’s been argued this is a conflict of interest. We’re speaking to Marco just after eight o’clock this morning, but joining me now in the studio is Councillor Stephen Goldspink. Morning Stephen.
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: Morning Paul.
PS: First of all, in your opinion, and many others that have contacted us as well, what is the problem with this appointment for Marco Cereste?
SG: Well the issue is that Marco Cereste is charged with looking after the Council’s overall strategic direction, and actor in respect of the strategic development of the city. And clearly there are a lot of companies who want to come into the city, buy land, and carry out developments, housing, industrial, whatever, of which Larkpoint may well be one. In fact they were recently involved in a close care development on land off from Thorney Road in Eye, which is obviously in the Peterborough area. So in a lot of people’s minds, having a Leader of the Council who is responsible for strategic growth, and who also has a hand in property speculation, is not good.
PS: What are the rules and regulations on the conflict of interest within the Council?
SG: Well they’re fairly vague Paul. It just says that you’ve got to be mindful of conflicts of interest. And it also says though, if there’s an executive function, that’s something that somebody in a position of power such as Councillor Cereste, has to do, and they do deem there’s a conflict of interest, they have to give that power back to the next highest authority. As he is the Leader of the Council, the next highest authority would be Full Council. It doesn’t come down the chain to the Deputy Leader, it goes up the chain to the Full Council. So the first question is, is there a conflict of interest, and the second question is, if there is, what’s going to happen to this power?
PS: Right. Now Larkpoint deliver health services as I understand it. What’s the problem?
SG: Well because they’re actually involved in property work. That’s the issue.
PS: Because they’re a subsidiary of Larkfleet?
PS: Who are developers?
SG: Yes. And the growth of this city is predicated upon bringing in developers. But there’s a wider issue than that Paul. And that is that if you remember last year Councillor Cereste gave up his role as Chairman of NHS Peterborough.
PS: Which wasn’t entirely succesful, was it?
SG: It wasn’t. And within that press release, that I’ve actually got here from the Council, it said he’d taken on the responsibility for growth, strategic planning and economic development of the city. And he said that focusing on the City Council was in the best interests of both NHS Peterborough and the City Council, and he said as well, “our strategy for the economic development of the city will need my full attention and commitment.” And a lot of people are going to be asking themselves, how can you give this city your full attention and commitment, if you’re doing all these other part-time jobs?
PS: Because he does have quite a lot of other interests as well, doesn’t he? And, you know, fair enough. A lot of councillors have other interests.
SG: Of course they do. It’s a question of the nature of this interest, and his role, that is the problem. But also you see, in his own words he’s almost recognised there, that there is a problem if he does too much. And yet now he’s taking things on again.
PS: Yes. We’ve got a statement from Peterborough City Council and Marco Cereste. He says, “There’s no conflict of interest whatsoever between my Council roles and my recent appointment as Chairman of Larkpoint, which is a subsidiary of Larkfleet Homes, and spevialises in healthcare and retirement living development. This appointment is in the process of being recorded on my public register of interests.” He’s saying there is no conflict.
SG: There may not be technically, but it’s down to public perception. And it’s how the public will perceive this. And they will see our city’s growth being overseen by somebody who’s got a hand somewhere in property development. No matter how tenuous the link, you can’t get away from it. And that of course is why we need an elected Council Leader or Mayor, directly elected by the people. Because then you don’t have cabals of councillors electing people who the public really wouldn’t choose if they had the choice.
PS: Do you think really here Marco has just been unwise to take this appointment?
SG: I do. I know Councillor Cereste very well, and I know that he does have the best interests of this city at heart. But I also know he has a lot of business interests. And keeping the two in check must be difficult. So I do sympathise with him, but I think this is a little bit unwise.
PS: Yes. He’s going to be on after eight o’clock this morning, so we’ll put some of these questions to him. But as I mentioned, councillors, a lot of councillors, do have business interests. It must be very difficult. You’ve got interests in the city, haven’t you, as well? Everybody has. It’s very difficult to keep them all apart from all the jobs that you do, especially when you’re Leader I suppose.
SG: Well it is, yes. My interests don’t really conflct, although I have a small shop up in the city, but I’m not involved in setting business rates or anything like that. So there will always be, if you’re running a city there will always be an element, whether you’re a back-bencher or whether you’re a Cabinet Member. And it’s a question of really the public perception. If they can see that you’re trying to keep the two things separate there won’t be an issue. But if they have any doubts that the two things might conflict, then there’s going to be a problem.
PS: Is it about judgment?
SG: Probably it is. And Councillor Cereste’s judgment on this may be exercised in a different way to the way that most members of the public would see it should be exercised. And that’s always going to be an issue. But I’m sure he’ll get there in the end.
PS: Your thoughts appreciated this morning. 81333 on text, (01733) 315444 on the phones. Should the Leader of Peterborough City Council, who’s in charge of growth and strategic development for this city, be anywhere near a company that is linked to one of the biggest developers, hosuing developers in this city?
08:30 Friday 26th November 2010
Peterborough Breakfast Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL STAINTON: We’ve been talking about Marco Cereste this morning, Leader of Peterborough City Council. We mentioned earlier on that concerns have been raised over a new appointment involving the Leader of Peterborough City Council. Marco is in charge of growth and strategic development of course in the city, and has been appointed Chairman of a joint venture between two housing developers. But it’s been argued it’s a conflict of interest. We’ll speak to Marco in just a moment, but earlier this is what Councillor Stephen Goldspink had to say. (TAPE)
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: .. if you remember last year Councillor Cereste gave up his role as Chairman of NHS Peterborough.
.. And within that press release, that I’ve actually got here from the Council, it said he’d taken on the responsibility for growth, strategic planning and economic development of the city. And he said that focusing on the City Council was in the best interests of both NHS Peterborough and the City Council, and he said as well, “our strategy for the economic development of the city will need my full attention and commitment.” And a lot of people are going to be asking themselves, how can you give this city your full attention and commitment, if you’re doing all these other part-time jobs? (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: That’s Counciloor Stephen Goldspink. Councillor Cereste, I’m pleased to say, is on the phone now. Motning.
MARCO CERESTE: Hello Paul. How are you?
PS: I’m alright. (LAUGHTER) How about you? Now listen …
MC: I’m great. I’m great.
PS: Councillor Stephen Goldspink makes a fair point I think, ..
PS: .. that you resigned as Chairman of NHS Peterborough ..
PS: .. after steering them through pretty horrid times. And they were in a bit of a mess when you left. And you said you need to concentrate on Peterborough City Council matters.
PS: Now you’ve taken up this post.
MC: Yeah. Absolutely. And I am still concentrating very much on Peterborough City Council matters. We’ve produced a .. we’ve produced the budget now that’s gone out to consultation. We’ve produced the land allocation strategy, which has gone out to consultation. And, you know, to be honest Paul, it’s a part-time job at the City Council. And everybody knows in this city I get paid twenty one thousand pounds a year for being Leader of the city. I’ve got a family to bring up. And I’ve got to work. And that’s the reality of it. But of course you know the hypocrisy of all this is that you get Councillor Goldspink, he comes on the radio. It’s purely personal, have a go at me for I sacked him from the Cabinet, and you know ..
PS: No no. He’s not the only one that’s raised this matter. We’ve had at least four or five people ring us yesterday, not all of whom had personal axes to grind. They were concerned. They were concerned Marco that you were Chairman of a company that is a subsidiary of two housing developers, when you’re in charge of strategic growth for the city.
MC: But you .. but I’ve been .. I’ve been a friend of the owner of one of the housing companies for years. And every single time anything that’s come up that’s been theirs, and that I have been involved with, and I’ve declared my interest, my interests are declared and are a matter of public record, and I have walked out the room, and had nothing to do with .. with the decision. You know, the reason that, I believe, that one of the reasons I can be a good Leader in the city, is because I have this spread of knowledge, I’m able to understand across the board what’s happening. I’m involved with the business community. And quite frankly, the Council does so many things, there’s virtually nothing that you could do in the city that it wouldn’t cause you a situation where you’ve got to be very careful.
PS: No but you’ve chosen to take this post on. You must see that people will look at it and think, well hold on a minute. The Council is pushing to build houses in Eye. Larkfleet are building houses in Eye. And I know you’re not employed by them, but you are employed by a subsidiary of that company. It’s your judgement here I think that people are worried about.
MC: No no no it’s absolutely .. its absolutely .. you’re absolutely right. But I walked out .. I walked out .. I walked out of the Cabinet Room — out of the Cabinet meeting when they .. when that decision was taken. So I had no involvement in it whatsoever. You know so that’s the system, that’s the way the Council works. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s building a house, or it doesn’t matter. I’ve got a nursery in Gladstone Street, where the Council pays I don’t know how much grant .. education grant for the children. I declare it. I have no process. It’s a national thing. It’s a business that I own. And there’s lots and lots .. and Goldspink .. remember ..don’t forget .. that Goldspink went to work for RailWorld as their director. He quite rightly declared it. And I’m assuming, although because I didn’t bother to go and take so much notice of his business, I’m assuming that when they put their planning applications in, that was wortth at least ten million pounds, I’m assuming he did the right thing, and declared it, and walked out of the room without taking part in any of the decision process.
PS: Is it difficult, do you think, because you have so many business interests in the city? How many meetings do you have to walk out of?
MC: err .. in the last four or five months, one or two.
PS: One or two?
MC: One or two. I’m not a member of the NHS any more. And you know, let’s be realistic here. We have a system where the local authority chooses to have what they call a part-time Leader. Yes? I am a part-time Leader. I have a family, like everybody else, and I have to make a living. Now, if the city doesn’t want a part-time Leader, and just by the very fact that it’s a part-time Leader, one assumes that then they have to make a living somewhere else. Now what do you do? You’ve got to have .. whoever it is is going to have to do something in order to bring bread home at the end of the week and keep the roof over their heads.
PS: But it’s the things you choose to do, isn’t it, that there are the issues about?
MC: Well you know those are my skills. My skills, I am a trained qualified company director. That’s my skill. You know, as you very well know, I do lots of things like that. I must be .. I must be the director of a .. director in .. I don’t know .. half a dozen .. a dozen .. ten companies. They’re all declared. It’s public record. You can go on the website and have a look.
PS: Do you see why people are concerned though in this instance?
MC: Of course. Of course I can see why people are concerned. But then people must understand that there’s a whole legal system in the Council that protects me and them from doing the wrong thing. If I .. if something comes up that’s to do with one of the companies that I have an involvement with, I just walk out, and don’t take part in the decision. that’s the right thing to do.
PS: Are the rules on conflict of interest at Peterborough City Council clear enough?
MC: Oh absolutely. Oh absolutely. You have to declare .. you have to declare not only a pecuniary interest, which would be the case where somebody was going to actually make some money out of it, you have to declare a personal interest as well, where you only just possibly only know the individual or know the business. So you have to do it properly, and it’s a matter of public record. I’ve declared all of my interests. And I do when I need to do that. But you know if you want somebody that’s got a wide range of experience, that can lead this city through the difficulties that we’ve got, and is a businessman that’s got the know-how to do that, you’re always going to have this problem. It doesn’t matter who it is, whether it’s me, or whether it’s an estate agent, or whether it’s somebody that owns a shop in Queensgate. You’re always going to have that problem.
PS: Marco, thank you for coming on this morning. Appreciate it.
MC: It’s a pleasure.
PS: Marco Cereste, Leader of Peterborough City Council, answering concerns raised by a number of people across this city, who called us yesterday and got in touch with us.