Nick Sandford on Coalition and on Budget Cuts for 2011

Responding to Marco Cereste’s earlier interview on how the Council intends to weather the approaching financial storm, Peterborough Liberal Democrat Nick Sandford spells out the way that a democratic coalition government works, and calls for an open debate on cuts at a neighbourhood level.

PS: Paul Rowley, looking forward to the Cable Guy who will be talking at the LibDem Conference later on. Peterborough’s Liberal Democrats are there as well. Nick Sandford of course stood for the LibDems at the last election. He’s been enjoying Conference all week, hopefully not too much Nick.
NS: No no. I’ve been very sober and very restrained about everything really.
PS: Yes. Separate rooms and evrything? No problems with accommodation?
NS: Absolutely.
PS: Of course. But this is going to put a spanner in the works of the Coalition, isn’t it, when the Cable Guy talks later on today?
NS: Well obviously we have to listen to see what Mr Cable has to say. The thing that the BBC commentators find it difficult to handle is that the current Government that’s in power is a coalition, so it’s not a Liberal Democrat government. But it’s certainly not a Conservative government. It’s a coming together of two parties with two different sets of policies, who have actually reached agreement on a coalition programme which they’re actually taking forward. When I go out talking to my constituents people say to me, it’s really good that we’re seeing politicians from different parties, rather than hurling insults at each other all the time, are prepared to sit down and work out a common programme, which can be put forward in the best interests of the country.
PS: Democracy in effect.
NS: Yes. It’s certainlly democracy, because it’s the first time since nineteen forty five that we’ve had a government running the country that’s got more than half of the support of the people. If you add up the votes that were cast for the Conservative Party, and the votes that we received, it comes to somewhere around about sixty to seventy per cent. Whereas if you go back to Mr Blair’s government in two thousand and five he was trying to run the country on the basis of about thirty five per cent.
PS: Earlier in the show of course, and you are part of the Coalition, you agree with the need for cuts of course, and the Government’s Spending Review next month, earlier on in the show Peterborough City Council Leader Marco Cereste said Peterborough will lose around nine to twelve million pounds next year. He painted a pretty dark picture of what it was all going to look like. And he said that if cuts were around forty per cent of the Government grant, then Peterborough was facing a nightmare situation.
NS: Yes. I think we have to wait until the Comprehensive Spending Review which comes out on October the twentieth to see what the extent of the reductions are going to be. There are actual arguments that you can have, and we’ve been having some of the debates at this conference here, about how quick. We’ve got a massive deficit. We’ve got a bigger deficit than Spain. We’ve got a bigger deficit than Greece have. So we really do need to take action. But there are questions about how quickly you reduce it, and how significant the actual cuts are. And of course there’s going to be really great issues about which services do you protect, and which services do have to be cut.
PS: Do you think he’s right though, that Peterborough City Council are planning ahead now?
NS: Well I think it’s right that Peterborough City Council should be making some contingency plans. What I don’t like about the way they’re doing it. In the typical Peterborough City Council way, all of these discussions and negotiations are going on at meetings that the Cabinet is actually holding in secret. What a number of local authorities have actually done is they’ve actually gone out in the form of a public consultation, and they’ve said if we do find ourselves in a position that we have to reduce services, which are the priorities?
PS: I think Marco said he would be putting some consultations out there to the public.
NS: Yes well he needs to get on with it. The other context this needs to be put in is what this Government’s also proposing, which is that they may be reducing the amount of money that’s going to the local authorities, but they’re going to be given almost complete freedom within certain very narrow constraints about how they actually spend it. So we’re going from an era under the previous government where virtually every penny that a local authority receives, it was prescribed about how it had to be spent, and they actually report back to central government. The agenda that this government has got is saying that the people who really know what the priorities are, are people in local authorities, but not just in local authorities, people on parish councils, people in neighbourhoods. So we’ve just recently in Peterborough created these new Neighbourhood Councils. And they’ve not really done particularly well. They’ve not moved forward. But this is a fantastic opportunity, if Marco’s really serious about making those Neighbourhood Councils successful, really give them the power for people in their communities to say do we want to spend money cutting the grass twenty times a year, or would we rather spend it on repairing the actual pavement.
PS: It’s going to be an interesting time. Nick, thank you for that. Nick Sandford, for the Liberal Democrats, stood for them in the last election in Peterborough.