As part of their programme of cuts, Peterborough City Council is ending its discount for pensioners who cultivate an allotment. A senior councillor questions the integrity of this policy, and asks how it fits with the Council’s stated aim to become Home of Environment Capital. And the councillor suspects that Peterborough Council may have a darker motive.
08:10 Tuesday 9th November 2010
Peterborough Breakfast Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire..
PAUL STAINTON: Pensioners with allotments could become the latest victims of the City Council’s cutbacks. According to the financial strategy, all concessions on allotment fees are to be scrapped. Those who currently pay seventeen pounds a year will be charged the full fifty two pounds a year. Councillor Stephen Goldspink represents the East ward. Morning Stephen.
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: Good morning.
PS: Doesn’t sound like much really.
SG: Well it doesn’t, unless you’re a pensioner. But if you think of going up from seventeen to fifty two pounds, when your pension is only maybe ninety a hundred pounds a week, that’s a lot of extra money to pay, especially when you’re doing it to actually grow your own vegetables and save money.
PS: Yes. This is the actual cost of an allotment. It was just a concession, wasn’t it?
SG: Well that’s true. But we don’t have to abolish concessions. We’re not abolishing concessions in a lot of other areas. I’m wondering why we’re targeting allotments in particular. That seems to me to go against the Council’s aspirations to build up its environment capital. Because this is an area where people growing their own food can be a great boon towards that.
PS: But it will save the Council about thirty thousand pounds.
SG: Well, do you want me to list all the other ways we could save the thirty thousand pounds instead?
PS: Yes. Yes please.
SG: OK. Well thirty thousand is a very small amount of money. We’re going to halve the number of Neighbourhood Councils in a year. I bet we’re not going to halve the payments made to Neighbourhood Council Chairmen, who are councillors. If we did that, that would save seven and a half thousand pounds. We’re going to reduce the grant to Peterborough Environment City Trust by forty thousand next year, and eighty thousand the year after, a hundred and fourteen the year after that. If we front loaded that a bit more, that would be a way of saving the money. We don’t currently charge for translation services for people who haven’t got English as a first language, and who come to the city and then demand us to translate. If we actually made a charge for some of those services we could easily make that thirty thousand pounds, and I can go on.
PS: Have you suggested any of these things to the Council, instead of getting rid of the concession on allotments?
SG: They will be suggested as part of a budgets package which I traditionally put forward when it comes to the February meeting. But to be honest, with the current council, I don’t think there’s much point in suggesting these things, because it tends to fall on deaf ears. Once they’ve decided, they do it.
PS: “We spoke to the National Allotment Association about the charges“, said the Council, “and they said that one pound a week is very reasonable.” The Council say “we provide water for free on allotment sites“, which last year cost the Council twelve grand.” We also have been investing in allotment sites to improve their security, which is what our allotment holders have told us they want. This charge allows us to ensure our allotments are self-sustainable.”
SG: I don’t doubt that’s the case. But it could have been done more gradually. I mentioned at least one case there where a grant is being withdrawn over a period of three years. There’s no need to ramp the costs up all at one go to fifty two pounds a year. That’s just unfeeling, and unthinking.
PS: What do you think is the effect it will have on people who perhaps want allotments, or have allotments now. What effect do you think this will have?
SG: It will certainly deter some people from carrying on with their allotments. And it will deter others from actually starting. When you talk about paying out seventeen pounds out of your weekly pension, to get your allotment, that’s not much. When you’re talking about having to collect fifty two to get it, that’s a different matter. So I think we may see a fall off in take up of allotment provision, which may of course be what the Council wants, because it has a proud history of selling off allotments.
PS: Oooh. You’re a conspiracy theorist Mr Goldspink!
PS: Yes. Mmm, methinks. You think they’re going to be selling off allotments if nobody uses them? Well. Interesting. Interesting. Stephen Goldspink, thank you for that, councillor for the East ward. as I said, a Peterborough City Council spokesman said:”There are no increases in the cost of allotments. The cost has always been fifty two pounds. It’s just a concession which is being removed.” But you heard from Stephen Goldspink there, many many ways in which thirty thousand pounds, which is in effect what withdrawing this concession would save Council, many many ways that the Council could save that thirty thousand pounds.