Darren Fower and Nazim Khan on Peterborough Funding Cuts

Following his appearance on the show, Eric Pickles has given Peterborough City Council precise details of the funding cuts he has in mind for Peterborough for 2011 and 2012. Opposition spokesmen Darren Fower (LibDem) and Nazim Khan (Labour) say how they would do things differently.

07:10 Tuesday 14th December 2010
Peterborough Breakfast Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

PAUL STAINTON: We’ll start though with an eight million pound hole that’s been plunged into Peterborough City Council’s finances. There’ll be eight million less in the pot for the Council in the twenty eleven twenty twelve financial year, after the Government cut its grants to councils yesterday. Unions are warning it could lead to thousands of job losses across the country. Well the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told the Commons that front-line services should be protected. (TAPE)
ERIC PICKLES: No authority will face more than an eight point nine per cent reduction in spending power for either two thousand and eleven twelve, or two thousand twelve and two thirteen. In fact Mr Speaker, the average reduction in spending power for two thousand and twelve .. for two thousand eleven two thousand and twelve, is four point four per cent. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Eric Pickles. I’m sure if you heard our interview with him on the show at eight thirty yesterday, you’ll be consoled by his words. Darren Fower is Leader of the LibDems on Peterborough City Council. He’s with us this morning. Morning Darren.
DARREN FOWER: Good morning Paul.
PS: Eight million pound cuts on Peterborough City Council’s budget – that’s a big sword swipe, isn’t it?
DF: Yes it certainly is. But there are areas where the City Council can make savings that work, and mean that there’s no impact on those front-line services.
PS: Whereabouts do you think?
DF: Well just off the top of my head? We’ve got the removal of the car parking for all staff and councillors. That’s a hundred thousand a year. Abolish Your Peterborough magazine that not many people read. That’s another hundred thousand. Reduce grass cutting. That’s fifty thousand. All the expenditure on publicity, the media team. That’s eight hundred thousand. Scrap the Community Leadership Fund. That’s a quarter of a million. Encourage the top five paid council staff to take a ten per cent pay cut. That’s eighty thousand. So that’s one point three million straight away. And then if we look at the other projects they’re working on, such as their own waste incinerator. Well let’s just put that on hold or even scrap that and save sixty million pounds over the next three years.
PS: Nazin Khan is with us as well. He’s a Labour councillor. Nazim, do all those recommendations make sense?
NAZIM KHAN: That’s a wish list. I think what Darren is saying is that we do nothing and just cut all the services, and just hope for the best. That doesn’t make sense at all, because this eight million pounds is not the true figure. I think once we get into the fine details, you look at the ability of the local authorities to have the increases in council taxes and everything else, that’s frozen. So I fear the real figure is going to be much higher than the five per cent, or the four per cent that the figure is saying. It will be a lot higher. Don’t forget, we are already cutting the front line services. So after this budget is hrough I don’t think there’ll be anything left in the city local authority.
PS: Is it not possible, do you think, not possible to find eight or perhaps ten million pounds worth of cuts?
NK: Well you can find them, but at what cost? I don’t think that there’s any problem finding them. But at what cost. The front line services are going to go. The Leader of the Council was on the record as saying that. This time the front line services are going to be hit as well.
PS: Darren, are you proud to be associated with a LibDem government that is making these sorts of cuts, that Nazim says we can’t substantiate, or survive?
DF: I’m proud that we’ve got a party that’s grown enough and mature enough to deal with the serious responsibility of government, and the devastating legacy left by the Labour Government, and the debt. So it’s important that we recognise the effort that’s being made there. This Localism Bill that’s come through, there are of course areas of concern, but there’s also a lot of positiveness.
PS: Well quite a lot of concern after our chat with Eric Pickles yesterday, to be fair.
DF: Yes. I did hear that. I must say you did very well Paul. He can be a challenging chap. But like you say, you’ve got to ask those questions. And yes, we’re keen as a group on the Council to make sure that front line services aren’t affected. But if we look at a figure of eight million, well there’s only in two thousand and eight the City Council spent eight million pounds on consultants. So there’s definitely room for reducing overheads without having a detrimental impact on those front line services.
PS: It’s possibly a ten million pound cut, because Peterborough City Council are getting two million pounds for extra social care services, aren’t they? So it’s sort of a ten million cut.
DF: Yes. The bottom line as far as I’m concerned is there’s going to need to be cuts made. But what we need to make sure is that while senior members of the Conservative administration are lecturing people about being prudent, they’re not walking around with their free Blackberries in their hand paid for by the local taxpayers’ money.
PS: Yes. Nazim was making the point there that front line services will have to go here. These are massive cuts, and there’ll be nothing left that Peterborough City Council will be doing, almost.
DF: Well it’s not definite that front line services┬áhave to be cut. I’ve mentioned a few minutes ago areas where the Liberal Democrat group have sat down and found areas where the money could be saved without having a direct impact on the people of Pererborough. So we need to make those points and be loud, and obviously hope that the ruling Conservative administration on Peterborough City Council listen to us.
PS: Nazim, was there another way? Did the Government have to cut council grants as much as they have? Was there a third way?
NK: I think that they could have taken it easy. There is a third way. If they would have taken them slowly, rather than going the cut-throat (route) this time, I think that we could have survived. But what they’re doing, it’s not true that they were left with this deficit. It’s the ideological thing. You can have new faces, but the ideology is exactly the same with the Tories, which is that they don’t like public services, and they want for the richer to be able to pay for their services, and hit the poor. And I think this cut will hit the poor and the vulnerable most.
PS: Where would you have made cuts then, Nazim? Because some cuts had to be made, didn’t they, otherwise we would have lost our ratings on the money markets abroad? The pound would have been getting smashed. We’d have been paying higher interest rates to borrow money which we have to borrow.
NK: Absolutely. And that is where I think we were saying that if you take the cuts in a slow process, rather than in one go, I think we could have survived. Because this is the only government that I know of that’s saying we can do more for less. How long can you sell that for? If you’ve got nothing, if you’ve got no front line services, if you’ve got no front line officers sitting at their desks, who’s going to deliver our services? We may be able to say, yes we can save a million here and save a million there, but if there are no people sitting at their desks to deliver those services, how are you going to be able to do that?
PS: Mm. And Darren, why have Peterborough been hit quite so hard? Because Cambridgeshire County Council, they’ve got about a three per cent loss in revenue. Why is that difference so high?
DF: To be honest, I’ve absolutely no idea. There’s no information that’s been fed to me as a city councillor from our own local authority, which I’m a little bit upset about. Because ..
PS: We were hoping they’d be on this morning, but they can’t make it.
DF: Well you know they have this tendency to disappear when you need to talk to them most. And that can be very frustrating, not only for the people of Peterborough who listen to your show, but I can assure you also, from my point of view as a councillor. But this is the reality we face up to, and Nazim to mention there that Labour hadn’t left the deficit is nothing short of an outright lie, I’m afraid, so .. we need to recognise that, because it was important, we were about to have the country’s credit rating annihilated, which would have put us in a really, really bad situation. So we’ve got to make some sensible decisions. But this is an opportunity. This is a chance to recognise the efforts of all those people and organisations in Peterborough that have been doing voluntary work for many years. For example, in my patch in Werrington we’ve got an organisation called Werrington Neighbourhood Council, and the work that these guys do throughout the year for no pay is astonishing. It’s an amazing impact on the local community. And so hopefully with this Localism Bill we’ll see them actually getting some .. well their hands on some money, and obviously giving real power to really make a positive impact in the direct community.
PS: Nazim, Darren says you’re telling porky-pies.
NK: (LAUGHS) Darren is living in the dream world. If you look at .. this was nothing to do .. it was the greedy bankers who almost bankrupted the whole world around. Under Labour you had thirteen years of real ..(INTERRUPTED)
PS: Borrowings.
NK: .. in Peterborough. And we can argue about that, but we’ve got to deal with what we’ve got today. And for Darren to say let’s get the good old volunteers to do our work on a cheap (basis). That is my fear. We will get the work spread all over the place, people doing it voluntarily, people doing it free, or from their heart and everything else. And that is the legacy that Tories and the Lib pact is going to leave us with.
PS: Thank you for coming on this morning, Nazim Khan, a Labour councillor from Peterborough, and Darren Fower, Libdem councillor in Peterborough as well. … We did hope that Peterborough City Coucnil would come on this morning to talk about this budget cutback. Instaed they sent us a statement. They say: “Our finance team is currently analysing the headline figures to fully understand the impact to the Government announcement, and how much funding we will receive from Government next year. As soon as we have a clearer picture we will be able to share this with the public and move on to the next stage of the budget process by updating our budget proposals to refelct the actual funding we will receive, and the response received so far to our budget consultation.”