Only the Best Will Do

07:09 Wednesday 20th April 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: A number of local councillors have complained at the decision to spend £15,000 of taxpayers’ money on hiring a new location for this year’s local election counts. Traditionally counts are held at the Town Hall, but this year Peterborough City Council are hiring the East of England Showground’s Executive Suite. City Council say the Town Hall isn’t big enough for the count, and two thirds of the bill is paid for by the Government, and not by the Council. Councillor Nick Sandford is from the Liberal Democrat group on the Council. Good morning.
NICK SANDFORD: Hi. Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: That seems pretty reasonable. If you can’t fit it in the Town Hall, hire somewhere you can do it, and get on with it.
NICK SANDFORD: Yes. Just on the subject of the cost, it’s not paid for by the Government or the Council. It’s every single one of us who has to pay out of our income tax, so that’s a nonsensical argument.
PAUL STAINTON: We pay for it in the end, is what you’re saying.
NICK SANDFORD: Absolutely. It’s the same way we pay for the fountains in Cathedral Square. But there’s a couple of additional arguments on this really. First of all, there’s one about accessibility. Traditionally the count’s always been at Peterborough Town Hall. There’s always quite a number of people come along because they want to hear the results. It’s an essential part of our democratic process, that people can come and hear the process happening, hear the results declared, that sort of thing. And unfortunately 30% of people in Peterborough don’t have access to a car, so they’ll find it impossible to get out to the East of England Showground.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Thre’s a bus service though, isn’t there?
NICK SANDFORD: Have you tried getting there by bus? You have to get off the bus and you’ve got to walk for about 20 minutes or 30 minutes to actually get there. I spoke to a senior officer at the Council, who said well, if people want to be green, they can cycle. Well I think that typically shows the attitude of Cabinet members and people at the Council.
PAUL STAINTON: However the Council say they’ve written to all candidates to assess the demand for a bus service to the Showground from the Town Hall. No-one has expressed an interest.
NICK SANDFORD: Well I’ve spoken to a number of our candidates, and they don’t recall being consulted. I’ve spoken to our agent. The thing that annoys me about this is if Peterborough didn’t make all these fantastic claims to be the greenest Council in the country, it would be fine. But I think this is what I would call environmental hypocrisy really, because they publish all these grandiose policy documents, green travel plans, sustainable transport plans and all this sort of thing, they’ve even taken away the free parking permits the Council employees have, yet on a prestigious occasion like this, the whole thing is at an inaccesible venue right on the fringes of Peterborough, where everybody that wants to come will have to come by car. And think about the carbon emissions that are going to be churned out as a consequence.
PAUL STAINTON: And you’re saying, basically, if people can’t get there, your main worry is this is undemocratic?
NICK SANDFORD: Well I think you have to raise that question, because why is it that every year .. I think there was one year that we had it at the Bushfield Sports Centre .. every year they have very complex elections where you’ve got several elections on the same day. They’ve always held it at the Town Hall. But even if they can’t hold it at the Town Hall, why couldn’t they hold it at the Voyager School, at Ken Stimpson, at the Cresset? We’ve got loads of venues that could be suitable which are much more accessible than holding it at the East of England.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Well it’s too late now Nick though, isn’t it? It’s all done and dusted, isn’t it?
NICK SANDFORD: I think realistically it’s probably too late to change it for this current year, because they’ve probably signed the contract and paid over the money and that sort of thing. But I think what we need to do is we need to make sure that this sort of thing doesn’t continue to happen. It’s really important that people, that all members of the public, that all the population of Peterborough, have access to these sorts of things when they’re happening. And it’s really important that if Peterborough is claiming these green credentials, that they don’t just talk about them, but they actually implement them.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. I’m just having a look at the statement from Peterborough City Council, who we invited to come on this morning. They decined, sent us a statement. Some of the statement is, “The Showground i easily accessible by car and taxi, and for some people it will mean a shorter journey. We’ve written to all candidates to assess the demand for a bus service to the Showground from the Town Hall, however no-one has so far expressed an interest. The bus service will be avalable to any members of the public for a small charge if they book in advance. This year Peterborough is required to host Council, both the local elections and the UK-wide voting referendum, and rather than splitting the counts across two venues, we decided to make the whole process more efficient, accessible and transparent by holding the counts at the same venue, and also in the same room. In recent years we’ve used other venues, such as Bushfield Sports Centre and the Holiday Inn, as well as the Town Hall, because it’s not possible to fit all the count staff we need in the Town Hall alone.” It is a bit of a problem for them, isn’t it?
NICK SANDFORD: well it’s not a problem that they seem to have had on many previous occasions. The actual referendum that’s being held is a referendum on a very important issue, whether we should change to a more democratic and fairer voting system, yer they’re actually holding the count for that in a place where 30% of the population of Peterborough can’t have access to. They talk about getting a taxi. Have they considered how much it would cost somebody to get a taxi say from Gunthorpe over to the East of England Showground? I think you’re probably talking about £14/£15.
PAUL STAINTON: A lot of cash. Yes. A lot of cash.
NICK SANDFORD: it’s a lot of cash for ordinary people. But these people, these senior officers at the Council are earning £180,000, £140,000 a year, they’re completely living on a different planet I think, that’s the problem.
PAUL STAINTON: Nick, thanks for your comments.