This interview with Peterborough City Councillor and Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Nick Sandford 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 07:10 on Monday 22nd March 2010 in Paul Stainton’s BBC Peterborough Breakfast Show.
PS: Now, the city’s libraries, museum, sports facilities and the Key Theatre may no longer be managed by the City Council. A new charitable trust could take over the running of it in order to save the Council some cash. Let’s speak to LibDem Parliamentary Candidate Nick Sandford. Morning Nick.
NS: Good morning.
PS: Sounds like a good idea.
NS: Well it’s a good idea that it might save a small amount of cash I think. In the first year it will cost the Council money with all the setup costs. But they reckon it may save up to a couple of hundred thousand. I think the major concerns that we’ve got about it are there’s going to be a significant loss of democracy and accountability. 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 of charges. I remember a couple of years ago there was concern that sports charges were going up over the rate of inflation. When that happened, people could go to the local councillors. When the trust has control of it people will basically have no actual say.
PS: So basically what they’re doing is, correct me if I’m wrong, they’re putting all these things outside of Council control, and they’ll be controlled by I think it’s eleven trustees. isn’t it, including two councillors. And it’ll all be mostly funded by and work in partnership with, the Council. It’s to sort of save VAT isn’t it, on a lot of things?
NS: It’s to do with the way the uniform business rate actually operates. That apparently if you’re a charity you can reclaim it. I think there are going to be some savings, it’s a question of whether the major loss of control and accountability is worth the actual savings. And you’ve got to bear in mind that this is going to cover some really basic council services. Some people may accept that the Key Theatre could go under commercial control, or control of a trust, but to actually have the public library service handed over, I think some of us think that’s going a bit too far.
PS: It doesn’t happen .. there’s a couple of councils round the country that do have their libraries doing this, don’t they?
NS: Yes. Councillors haven’t been given the full information on this, because we were told there’s about a hundred and fifty trusts across the country. But I asked a question at the Sustainable Communities Committee last week, how many of the trusts actually had the public library services, and Councillor Lee, at the meeting, said he didn’t actually have that information. When I did some research myself I found there’s only actually two in the entire country. So this is by far means, they were actually giving us the impression this was a proven way of doing things. But there’s only actually two public library services in the entire country.
PS: Yes there’s a council that’s already ditched it as well. There’s a council that tried it and thought it wasn’t good enough.
NS: Yes there was a third one, Hounslow. They actually had a trust and I think they’ve now handed it over to a private firm.
PS: So it doesn’t really bode well. And also there’s a potential here, isn’t there, for underfunding. Because in it’s first year the Council is proposing to provide four point five one million but the trust budget is projected to be four point seven eight million. So there’s over a quarter of a million pounds missing somewhere, isn’t there?
NS: I think really this is just the means of the Council trying to save a bit of cash, but also abdicating any control or any responsibility for the service. Because for instance, if in a couple of years time somebody doesn’t like the programme at the Key Theatre, or they don’t like how much they are having to pay to play at table-tennis, currently they can come to me as a councillor and complain about that. In a couple of years time, they’ll come to me and I’ll say, well that’s nothing to do with me.
PS: You can’t do anything about it?
NS: That’s basically it, yes.
PS: Obviously, the Cabinet meet tonight, it’s liable to go through, isn’t it? And the worry here is I suppose, that with eleven trustees, and just two elected councillors, there are certain risks. I believe you called it a self-perpetuating oligarchy, which is a great phrase. What does that means?
NS: It basically means a situatiuon where once the trustees have been appointed, they can reappoint themselves. I actually asked about this at the meeting, and I was told that they actually have an annual general meeting of the company, at which the members of the company decide who the trustees are. I am sure you can guess the situation. The members of the company are the trustees. So they basically just reappoint themselves. I’m not opposed to trust in principle, but this particular type of trust they’ve chosen is a fundamentally undemocratic and unaccountable way of achieving it.
PS: Well, your thoughts this morning? Do you agree with Nick Sandford Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Peterborough? Do you agree with what Nick had to say? Are you happy that your libraries, museums and sports facilities, the Key Theatre will be outside of the control of your local councillors?