Local LibDem Leader Darren Fower rejects the idea of holding one big council election once every four years and prefers to keep the current system of rolling elections. Broadcast at 07:12 on Thursday 8th July 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. Paul Stainton is in the chair.
PAUL: The way we vote in Peterborough could be about to change for ever. Currently a third of the city’s fifty seven councillors are voted in each year, with no election in the fourth year of that cycle. Now a new system to be voted on next week would see one election for all City Council seats every four years, just like a General Election, like a Local General Election. The proposal could save the city almost fifty grand. Darren Fower is the Leader of the LibDem group on the City Council. Morning Darren.
DARREN: Good morning Paul.
PAUL: Great news!
DARREN: No. Sorry.
PAUL: Why not?
DARREN: From our point of view we’ve talked about this, the Liberal Democrat group on the City Council, and we’ve got three areas of concern. We think that if there was this four year cycle then A, you wouldn’t be able to necessarily hold the administration to account if they had, let’s just say, a bad year. We also recognise that the figures that are being quoted, the three hundred thousand, are based on a perfect world. Anyone out there knows we don’t live in a perfect world, and it doesn’t take into account unexpected by-elections, referendums, to be honest I’ve been a councillor since two thousand and four, and in that time I can think of at least six councillors who passed on and who are now deceased, so that’s an average of at least one a year.
PAUL: Some have disappeared and gone away for a bit as well haven’t they?.
DARREN: That’s another good point. If you’ve got a councillor for example that you’re not happy with then it doesn’t seem particularly fair that they can sit around for another few years collecting their wages.
PAUL: Right. So your basic issue with all this is they’ll be less accountable. So for instance, oh I don’t know, the Leader of the City Council, you might not like him, you might want to get rid of him. Tough. He’s here for four years.
DARREN: Absolutely. And our biggest fear is that this idea is more to benefit senior council officers and save a couple of pounds rather than maintain what is a centre in our view, the power to the people, the ability to express their opinions each year.
PAUL: But it would save us money and it would reorganise it. So ..
DARREN: Yes. Just to stress, that three hundred thousand, it’s based on this, where there’ll be no by-elections or anything, everything will be perfect, people will get elected and there’ll be no elections until four years time. Well that’s not the real world. So there will be by-elections in between them. That will be a cost, and it will be an unexpected cost. Therefore if it’s unexpected they probably haven’t even accounted for that.
PAUL: But it would give us a sort of Peterborough Prime Minister for four years. We’d have a lot of time to get something done, wouldn’t we?
DARREN: It’s all very well changing formats and styles. The bottom line is we’ve already got a format that should be working for people in Peterborough. Now if your listeners don’t think it is, then this is where, at the moment, they can say well, come next May, I’m going to go out and I’m going to have my say. And fingers crossed their message will be heard.
PAUL: It could though create great political landslides, couldn’t it? So within four years time people will all go one way. The city could change for the better. You could benefit. More public interest. The public might get more interested in local politics.
DARREN: Given these troubled times that we’re in I think it really is important that people can have the peace of mind to know that at the moment they can have their say each May. And I do think that means that certain City Councillors, certain senior Council officers, can’t just have carte blanche for the first two years.
PAUL: You don’t really get your say, do you? You get your say in one little area, don’t you? A quarter of the seats, if you like.
DARREN: Well of course. But that can have a big impact. It’s not just about for example holding a majority. It’s having a say on select committees, working groups, be in the face of the local authority and obviously active within each ward.
PAUL: Right. So it’s not broke is what you’re saying.
DARREN: No it’s not broke. And again I think it’s just an idea that will reduce accountability, and will not be beneficial to people in Peterborough, and it will benefit probably civil servants more than the people of Peterborough.
PAUL: Darren, thank you for that this morning. Darren Fower, Leader of the LibDem group on the City Council.