Opposition Councillors Unite to Attack Tory Budget Proposals

08:08 Monday 30th November 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: As the dust settles on the lollipop cuts fiasco, rival parties in Peterborough are now joining together to form their own alternative budget plans. Representatives from Labour, The Libdems and the Independent Group are meeting tomorrow to discuss some of the policies they want to see change from the Council’s budget proposals. The Labour group want to see the Council share more services with neighbouring counties, and for councillors to take a 30% cut in allowances. Well earlier we heard from Jonathan Isaby, the Political Director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. He criticised the Tory proposals for raising council tax, and said he prefers some of the Labour Group’s cost saving methods. (TAPE)
JONATHAN ISABY: The Labour group have put forward an alternative budget today. I haven’t seen the detail of it, but from what the headlines were saying the idea of cutting councillors’ allowances, sharing some services and having fewer consultants sound some very sensible ideas as to how this can be done. And hopefully Councillor Seaton will take a look at that plan. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well Ed Murphy is a Labour councillor in Peterborough. With us, Nick Sandford as well, from the Liberal Democrats. Morning guys.
BOTH: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Ed first of all, where do you disagree with the budget that’s been proposed already? Where are you considering making changes?
ED MURPHY: Our disagreement starts with the out-turn for this year. The budget is out of control at the moment, and the authority needs to get control of the budget. With the pinhead running the Resources in Cabinet, we really need to sort this one out. And next year’s budget has many grandiose schemes in it that we don’t really need.
PAUL STAINTON: For instance ..
ED MURPHY: Tens of thousands of plans for the Olympic Torch, for the Jubilee, and a million pounds out of nowhere for a woodland strategy.
PAUL STAINTON: The Olympic Torch thing though surely is a good thing for Peterborough, isn’t it?
ED MURPHY: There is a budget within Peterborough City Council. The Communications Team have adequate resources to do that. They put on events in the city that happen very effectively and efficiently. They don’t need extra money for this.
PAUL STAINTON: What about council tax? Would you raise it?
ED MURPHY: Well at the moment the Government are saying to the Peterborough City Council, don’t raise council tax. Many of the Conservative Group are saying don’t do it. The Government have offered us £1.5 million. Tonight at the Scrutiny meeting those figures will come out, and we will see if we will be able to make use of that £1.5 million, which will mean a lower increase in the council tax, or perhaps no increase.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Councillor David Seaton said on this show that if we accept that it will leave us with a budget shortfall.
ED MURPHY: We’ve got a current budget shortfall at the moment, and are projecting to borrow £3 million from reserves next year to meet a gap. They need to address the gaps now. If that means Councllor Seaton doesn’t get paid a Special Allowance, fine. We need to cut our cloth. We need to deliver the services that are effective for Peterborough. These frivolous services that some of these Tory councillors want, they’re just ideas they’ve plucked out of nowhere actually. If you look through the budget paper, there are far too many budget heads that are big figures with lots of noughts in them. They’ve just been made up.
PAUL STAINTON: Nick, Nick Sandford from the Liberal Democrats, you’re with this budget. You’re putting ideas in as well, and signing some of it off?
NICK SANDFORD: Absolutely. We’ve agreed in principle that there are major flaws in the budget the Cabinet is putting forward, and we’ve got a meeting on Tuesday as you said between the Opposition Groups. And we’re certainly very interested in some of the proposals that the Labour group is putting forward. One of the things I’m particularly concerned about is, as Ed mentioned, some of the areas of expenditure, which almost seem to be things that you’ve got a particular Cabinet member who’s obsessed with something. We’ve got the Council incinerator costing £60 million. We’ve got £8 million on consultants. We’ve got £1 million being spent on trees. We should be grateful perhaps we don’t have a Cabinet member who’s obsessed with baboons or orangutans, or we’d be spending money on those sorts of things.
PAUL STAINTON: Ed, you talk about sharing services with other councils. How would we go about doing that?
ED MURPHY: Well I’ll give you an example. This year the Police Service faced a colossal decrease in their budget, 20%. And what the Police Service did is they shared functions, and they worked together with Bedfordshire and other police services. They protected the local policing teams in Peterborough by doing that. This City Council can do similar things, and protect front line services. The Labour Group will not be cutting posts in front line services.
PAUL STAINTON: Aren’t they sort of doing that by bringing in groups like Enterprise and Vivacity, to run things on a more fiscal basis, if you like?
ED MURPHY: No they’re not sort of doing what I’m suggesting. They’re sort of lining the pockets of friendly consultants, £8 million last year. What I want them to do is actually get together. For example, we’ve had a Children’s Services department and an Education Department that have not been performing well for a decade, for ten years. We’ve had about eight Directors of Education. They should have got into working together with a local authority years ago who were competent, and saved the money.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. And cuts to allowances, will all councillors be happy with that? A 30% cut in allowances, Nick?
NICK SANDFORD: Well what we pointed out, when the Council at a previous meeting discussed the Members’ Allowances, is that we’ve got one of the smaller unitary authorities in the country, and we’ve got the largest number of Cabinet members that the Government permits. We put a proposal forward at the last Council meeting to cut the Special Responsibility payments that are paid to some of these cabinet embers.
PAUL STAINTON: These are on top of your normal allowances.
NICK SANDFORD: Absolutely. I think that anyone who is a councillor, has to spend time on that job, should get paid a fair rate for that. But you’ve got some of these Cabinet Members who don’t have any particular onerous responsibility, Cabinet Member for Communications for instance, who’s being paid upwards of £20,000 for doing that sort of thing.
PAUL STAINTON: How much do you think you can save Ed with your budget? How much do you think ?
ED MURPHY: Well I think we can look at coming in tonight .. the officers that have been in charge of producing figures on the questions that I asked, that’s a standstill budget .. at zero increase. I’ve also asked them to look at a 2% increase as well. So we’ll be saving several million pounds. We’ll be turning round next year’s budget at £344 million.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. They’re not going to listen to you though, are they, the Tories in charge? They’re not going to listen to you or your ideas, are they?
NICK SANDFORD: I think the Government needs to listen, when their own Cabinet Minister, Mr Eric Pickles, and I’m no great admirer of his, .. he’s saying .. because we recognise that ordinary people are really hard pressed at the moment, having to take pay cuts and being made redundant, .. and what the Government’s saying is that they w ant to make some money available to local authorities to enable them to freeze the council tax. What our Council is saying is we want to spend the money on these grandiose projects. We don’t want to freeze the council tax. Mr Seaton, with his Pinhead of the Year award, needs to listen to what his own Cabinet Minister at the national level is actually saying.
PAUL STAINTON: Listen, good luck with your alternative budget. We’ll wait and see as to whether the Tory-run Council will listen to you, or just plough on regardless.
ED MURPHY: I think they should be listening to the residents of Peterborough as well actually on his one.
PAUL STAINTON: Ed Murphy, Labour councillor for Ravensthorpe, and Nick Sandford from the Liberal Democrats. Thank you for that.