This interview with Peterborough City Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment Capital and Culture Matthew Lee takes place following the news that Peterborough City Council intend to hand responsibility for libraries, museums, sports facilities and the Key Theatre over to a charitable trust. Broadcast at 08:10 on Monday 22nd March 2010 in Paul Stainton’s BBC Peterborough Breakfast Show.
PS: … Peterborough’s libraries, museums, and the Key Theatre may no longer be managed by the City Council. As of tomorrow a new charitable trust could take over the running of it, in order to save the Council some cash. Earlier on the show, councillor Nick Sandford expressed his reservations.
NS: (TAPE) The type of trust they’ve chosen, once the trustees have been appointed, they can just reappoint themselves virtually in perpetuity. And I think that leaves a number of concerns about, for instance, the Council will lose control over charges. I remember a couple of years ago there was concern that sports charges were going up, over the rate of inflation.
PS: That’s Nick Sandford, The LibDem candidate in the forthcoming parliamentary election. Councillor Matthew Lee is Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Environment Capital and Culture at Peterborough City Council. Morning Matthew.
ML: Good morning.
PS: Can you understand Nick Sandford’s reservations?
ML: Yes but they’re not true. I’ve tried to correct him and unfortunately he doesn’t seem to want to listen. Can I just reassure everybody the trustees can’t just keep reappointing themselves. They’ll be time-limited. Two of the trustees will be councillors, and they’ll be appointed by the Leader of the Council. And this is deliberate, because some charities, when you see them with their trustees, over the years the trustees don’t change, and therefore the organisation doesn’t change, so it’s very important that this trust will be bringing in new blood over the years to reinvigorate the service.
PS: Can I just take you back a step then? On the subject of accountability here, and who’s in control of this, you say there will be two councillors on this trust, they’ll be appointed by the Leader of the Council, so no democracy there, and then the other trustees are appointed by who ..?
ML: They’ll be selected. We’ve already run, in setting up this process, we’ve already run adverts to select people for shadow trustees.
PS: So no democracy there, Matthew, either. So you can understand people’s reservations about the lack of democracy on this trust, can’t you?
ML: What’s more important is getting the right type of people in that have an interest in delivering these services, have a commercial background, and have the ability to take this new organisation forward.
PS: These are our services though Matthew, aren’t they? They belong to us.
ML: These are all people with very close links to the City. The chairman of the new trust lives in Werrington. She’s a very well respected local business lady, and all of the ..
PS: Who’s she, Matthew?
ML: Sheila Smith. One of the other trustees is the Dean of the Cathedral. We have the Chairman of the local Sculpture Trust. We have a gentleman who’s been involved with St Theresa’s over the years, and comes with a banking background. We’ve got a lady who is a teacher at Hampton. We’ve got really good local people, and we’ll get more, that will take this service forward through a passion for improving it, and because of their local links, and because what they want to do is improve the service, improve the City, take it from where it is now, where you’ve got services that exist in the Council. Now the Council is a very big organisation with lots of things to think about and do. So some of the time the officers in these areas, say the Museum, they can’t get the things done that they want to do in the heritage world, because the Council’s pressing obligations are in another area.
PS: Now, nevertheless, we do have people working for the Council who are experts in the Museum, in sports facilities, the Key Theatre, and libraries. Who on that list of people is an expert on libraries?
ML:: They’re not going anywhere. They will transfer, on what we suspect will be the first of May, they will transfer. So Gillian Barclay, the Head of our Arts and Heritage Services will transfer. John Marsden, who’s in charge of our sports services and well respected, will transfer. Heather Walton, again, who’s delivering our Library service and our archivers, she transfers. All the staff transfer. What we’re trying to do is allow these staff to stop having to concentrate on other stuff and improving and making the services better that they care passionately about.
PS: There could be a problem here, though, couldn’t there? Because there’s a potential shortfall in the Budget, isn’t there? You’re proposing to provide four and a half million pounds, but the trust budget should be around four point seven eight million pounds. So there’s over a quarter of a million pounds missing here. How are they supposed to do their job with less funding?
ML: Each year all services in the Council are going to get a reduction through efficiency. What’s happened here, this is an agreed target for savings that the trust wants to make. But if it doesn’t, it is underwritten by the Council from our contingencies. So regardless of whether this service is in a charity or not, it would still be being asked to make some efficiency savings, and those efficiency savings would be underwritten by the contingency. So it isn’t true to say that there’s a huge risk here. We want to make those efficiencies, but if we can’t there is a contingency that helps with that.
PS: Why should you expect people to pay their Council tax, Matthew, and you take that money, give it to an unelected trust, you decide who sits on it, they make decisions on libraries ..
ML: I don’t decide who sits on it.
PS: The Council did didn’t they?
ML: No no the Council didn’t.
PS: Well somebody .. the public don’t decide. That’s the point here Matthew. the public are not deciding. It’s their money, and their facilities. You can see there’s a ..
ML: This is a contract. The Museum buildings, the Library buildings, all the buildings remain in the Council’s ownership. This is a contract between this new organisation and the Council. If this new organisation doesn’t deliver, the contract will be terminated.
PS: Who do people complain to, if they don’t like the fact that table tennis rates are going up by fifty per cent or whatever, if that happens, say in future?
ML: Well they would complain to the new trust. They would also complain to the Council. Because this is a partnership. This really isn’t the Council saying “there you go, cheerio, that’s it, off you go.” This is .. we are contracting with this new organisation, so that we can deliver excellent services. As a charity, you get the ability to bring in money and sponsorship, you can drive your business slightly more commercially, a lot more carefully, and you’ve got an organisation who’s sole purpose is to improve culture and arts and sports in the City, rather than a city council who’s objectives are huge, and these only form part of it.
PS: Very quickly Matthew, how much are we going to save?
ML: We don’t have to pay business rates if this moves to a charity. And that’s about four hundred thousand pounds, a hundred thousand pounds of which the Council is giving back to the culture trust.
PS: Matthew thank you for that. Matthew Lee who’s a councillor and Council Member by the way for Environment Capital and Culture at Peterborough City Council and Deputy Leader. Your thoughts on that story this morning please. Are you happy that your facilities like libraries, museums, sports facilities and Key Theatre are going into an unelected charitable trust? …. It’s saving us four hundred grand. Maybe it’s a good thing.