Council elects old school Tory Leader

07:19 Thursday 21st May 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: John Holdich is the Leader, the new Leader, of Peterborough City Council. The long-serving Conservative councillor for Glinton and Wittering has been appointed unopposed. He’ll replace Marco Cereste who lost his Stanground seat in the recent local elections. Our political reporter Hannah Olsson was at Peterborough Town Hall for last night’s meeting.
HANNAH OLSSON: The General Election may have surprised pollsters and parties alike, but this evening in Peterborough Town Hall everything went as predicted. Conservative John Peach is the new Mayor, and Conservative John Holdich is the new Leader of Peterborough City Council. We were expecting a nomination from the Labour Group, but it didn’t come, so John Holdich was elected unopposed. The councillors nominating him described him as Peterborough through and through, a team player qualified and respected pair of hands. He said it was time for a clean slate, and he would do his best to represent the people of Peterborough. The only drama of the evening came as the new Leader began announcing the Cabinet members. Two members of the Labour Party Ed Murphy and Jo Johnson walked out of the Council chamber. Ed Murphy at one point was asking for nomination to run a cross-party Cabinet. I asked both Ed and Jo why they left the chamber.
JO JOHNSON: The Labour Group and followers of the Labour Group whip, because we were going to put a position up, and we didn’t do it.
HANNAH OLSSON: That came as a surprise to you?
JO JOHNSON: Yes it did. We weren’t told. We had a pre-meeting before and we weren’t told that there was no opposition.
HANNAH OLSSON: The Leader of the Labour Party Mohammed Jamil told me that simply, things had changed.
MOHAMMED JAMIL: The support I’d been promised, or I thought I had the support, prior to this meeting certain group members came to me and said look I’m sorry we’re not supporting you. Now I felt I could go ahead with this, or I could try and work with John Holdich to secure a better deal.
HANNAH OLSSON: So it may be a new era for Peterborough City Council, but it seems the drama continues.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Hannah Olsson there reporting from the annual Council meeting in Peterborough last night. John Holdich the new Leader of Peterborough City Council joins me now. Morning John.
JOHN HOLDICH: Good morning Dotty.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Well congratulations. What is first on your list of to do tasks?

JOHN HOLDICH: Ah well. I think this is an unusual experience, because I am not in control of the Council, although I’m the Leader of it. And all the committees last night went to .. chairs went to Opposition members. So therefore I have to weld the unity together, to work as a unit, for the benefit of the Peterborough as a whole. And probably in your pre-story, you probably already know that some members of the Labour Party don’t like that idea.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Right. What were they saying about it last night then?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well you know, as you said in your clip, two of them walked out on the meeting. I think councillor Jamil was very brave to back out on that. He and I have had several conversations during the week. I think he’s a very nice guy and I think we can work well together.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So what is your understanding of why councillor Jamil did not run against you as an alternative for the position as Leader.
JOHN HOLDICH: Well I honestly haven’t had the opportunity to talk to him about it. He is a gentleman, and I think he .. we had a plan together to weld the Council together and work together. I don’t think he, when he went into his Group meeting the night before, and I don’t think he wanted to stand. But the Group said stand, and he found he hadn’t got the support to do so. So he did the right thing I think in uniting the Council as far as he thought to take it forward.
DOTTY MCLEOD: All of these words John about welding the Council together, and uniting the Council, and getting consensus and putting Opposition councillors in charge of certain committees, this is very different isn’t it from what has gone before under the Leadership of Marco Cereste?
JOHN HOLDICH: Oh it’s totally different. But we don’t have the seats any more. The Conservatives have 26 seats and all others have 30. So it’s got to be different, and the Council believe that if we’re going to work together, and as I said welded together, then probably I’m your best bet to do it.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So a new era for friendly consensual politics on Peterborough City Council do you think John?
JOHN HOLDICH: I love it. Don’t you?
DOTTY MCLEOD: (LAUGHS) Do you think it’s going to work though? Are you going to get anything decided, with so many people involved, from so many different parties?
JOHN HOLDICH: I’m going to give it a good try. I’ve been around a long while, 38 years, county, city, parish. And I’ve done most jobs across the councils as well. So I’ve got a good knowledge, and I believe I’ve got the respect of most councillors across parties. So I’m in with a shout.
DOTTY MCLEOD: There is something similar in what you’re doing to what Marco Cereste used to do, in that you are going to be the Leader of the Council, you’re still going to remain as Cabinet Member for Education. Are you going to be taking on any other little jobs?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well I think Leader is a big job in itself, but I’ve been doing Education for four years. It’s going in the right direction, and I wanted to maintain that. But Leader’s got a huge job as well, to look at an overview of the Council and talk and do to new businesses coming to Peterborough, and right across the piece. I’ve got to take an interest in the whole Council, and which I can I believe because of this experience I’ve got across the whole Council.
DOTTY MCLEOD: You alluded last night to the millions of pounds worth of budget cuts that are to come in the next few years. With that in mind John, is it inevitable that there’s going to be cuts to services, that services are going to get worse in Peterborough, on your watch?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well look. We have made forty-odd million pounds worth of cuts, twenty five million of them last year. And I’ve said, and people say what’s your vision going forward, well I need to look at what’s happened, what effect those cuts have had. And as I said in the pre-clip that you used earlier, you don’t know what you do when you’re making such cuts as that, in terms of grass cutting. It sounds all right if you’re only going to cut the grass every eight weeks instead of six weeks, but then it depends a lot on the weather, and you see the state the grass is in at the moment, and that’s our city.
DOTTY MCLEOD: But is the grass-cutting your primary concern with this John? How about the libraries, the childrens’ centres, the care homes?
JOHN HOLDICH: (OVER) Well no, but it’s an example. I think it’s an example everybody can understand. I need to look at the effect of those cuts, and that’s before we start making another fifteen million. It is going to be difficult. Under Marco we did very well in finding other ways to do things, and attracting jobs and that into Peterborough to mitigate that effect. But it was .. there’s another fifteen million, and I hope that across all parties we’ll find ways of doing it without cutting services.
DOTTY MCLEOD: But do you not think it is inevitable in some way that some services are going to be cut over the next four years John?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well if I’m brutally honest, yes they’ll have to. Because I think we’ve done all the light things and we’ve done some hard things, but it’s just going to get harder.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So where are you going to be looking at for potential service cuts? What can go?
JOHN HOLDICH: At this stage Dotty I’ll be honest with you I have no idea. That’s my job, to start this morning, to get an all-party panel together to start looking at that.
DOTTY MCLEOD: John Holdich, the new Leader of Peterborough City Council. Thank you for joining us this morning. And yes, a bit of an eventful meeting last night in Peterbroough. There were a couple of walkouts. Ed Murphy and councillor Jo Johnson as well walked out. And indeed we have heard this morning there are reports that the Labour Group is considering a vote of no confidence in their Group Leader councillor Mohammed Jamil.