08:18 Thursday 9th February 2012
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL STAINTON: The debate on the proposed rise in council tax in Peterborough continues to rage. Government Minister Bob Neill has urged the people of this city to lobby the Council over plans to raise council tax by nearly 3%, rather than accept a Government grant which would avoid such a rise. Mr. Neill joins Eric Pickles, the Taxpayers Alliance and MP Stewart Jackson in condemning the proposal from the Council. It’s a topic that’s splitting the Tories nationally .. and locally? Well, here’s Marco Cereste, Leader of Peterborough City Council. Morning sir.
MARCO CERESTE: Hello Paul. How are you.
PAUL STAINTON: I’m alright. Have you got another revolt on your hands here?
MARCO CERESTE: (LAUGHS) Just an interesting debate mate.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. A lot of people lining up to bash you. Mr. Neill, Mr. Pickles, Mr. Jackson, the Taxpayers Alliance.
MARCO CERESTE: Well you see the thing is the problem is that I actually agree with them. We should be considering what they’re saying, and we are. But the problem is my friend that we’ve got £50 million to take out of our budget over a four year period. And we’ve got to the point where with the pressures that we’ve had this year, from social care etcetera etcetera, particularly social care, we just don’t have anywhere else to go. And if we take .. if we don’t have a rate rise this year, there’s no guarantee that we’re going to get that money reimbursed next year, which means we have to make further cuts of £1.6 million next year. The following year £3.2 million. The year after that £4.8 million. And the year after that so on. And so it goes on. Over a ten year period, we as a city would have to cut another £16 million out of our budget. If people of this city want me to do that, then that’s what I’m here .. you know I’m here to listen to them. But I have to make what I believe is the best decision, and we as a group have to make what we believe is the best decision in the best interests of the citizens of this city. So yes, we could freeze the rates this year. I can guarantee rates will go up next year, and by a lot more than they will go up this year. And they will have to go up by a lot more in consecutive years to make up the shortfall.
PAUL STAINTON: So what you’re saying is you could freeze rates this year, but if you did, you would have bigger bills going forward because you’re not guaranteed you would get the cash from the Government. That’s what you’re saying.
MARCO CERESTE: That’s what I’m saying. And we’re already going to have to use reserves this year to balance the budget next year. And we would not be able to reinstate those reserves in the following years. So we’d have to cut even further into the services of this city.
PAUL STAINTON: So people like MP Stewart Jackson, they’re just looking for the headlines? They’re not looking at what’s best for Peterborough. He’s looking for the headlines, no council tax rise in Peterborough, is what you’re saying.
MARCO CERESTE: Well Stewart Jackson is a Tory MP. He’s a good bloke. But he doesn’t know the detail the way that we know the detail. Now I’ve sent a letter explaining .. I’ve sent a letter to Bob Neill explaining why it is that this city is in the position that it’s in. And we have to make this decision. You all know .. it’s a matter of public record .. that we’ve had a huge pressure, nearly nine million pounds, in social care. And that’s what’s done it.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes but Stewart Jackson is saying, that budget, you should have seen that coming. It’s been mismanaged, and if you’d managed it properly, you would be saving money on that.
MARCO CERESTE: Well, you know, we didn’t manage the social care budget, and with the demographics that we’ve had, and the huge growth in social care needs that we’ve had in the city, no-one could have seen it coming. So if we could have seen it coming we would have managed it. But it wasn’t possible. And again, that’s a matter of fact. I’m not making ..
PAUL STAINTON: What if you collect all your council tax? Would you be able to freeze it then?
MARCO CERESTE: If we collected all the council tax, it would make not a lot of difference. We collect nearly 100%. I think it’s 98, 99%.
PAUL STAINTON: £5 million missing last year, isn’t there?
MARCO CERESTE: Well, but you know, it’s not recoverable, is it?
PAUL STAINTON: Isn’t it?
MARCO CERESTE: Well we do everything .. we do everything that is legally and humanly possibly to get it. Nobody gets away from paying their council tax if we can do something about it. But companies go bust, or people disappear. There’s always an element that you can’t recover. And what’s really left, quite honestly Paul, the debate is do we pay 60 pence per household per year extra next year. That’s what we’re talking about. 60 pence per household per year next year, and preserve services in this city.
PAUL STAINTON: I thought it was £32 the rise. If you’ve got a Band D property.
MARCO CERESTE: That’s per annum mate. Per annum. Yeah so .. Sorry, it’s a week. Sorry.
PAUL STAINTON: 60p a week you’re saying. Yeah.
MARCO CERESTE: Per week. 60p a week. You know. And we preserve services, or we start cutting, you know, really deeply into providing you know buses, services, etcetera etcetera etcetera. Everything, you know .. you know, we all know in this city, that we’ve got one of the lowest rate .. we are one of the lowest rate paying cities in the UK. I think we’re number .. we’re fifth lowest of all the unitary authorities, and relative to most other places we’re hundreds of pounds a year cheaper than most other cities.
PAUL STAINTON: You see, I hear what you’re saying. I’m sure people listening to the show do this morning. Why is it then that people like Bob Neill, Eric Pickles, Taxpayers Alliance, Stewart Jackson, think you can do this, think you can freeze council tax?
MARCO CERESTE: Well we can do it. We can do it. But what I’m saying to you is we can do it, but look at what the consequences are. Now, you know, they’re not running our city. We are running our city. And we’re making what we consider to be a decision based on the best interests of our city. We can freeze council tax. We can then start cutting your services. So we can do it. We can cut .. we can cap taxes. But what we’re saying is we don’t believe, whilst it may be the right thing to do in lots of other places in the country where they’ve got fat, and they’ve got reserves. Don’t forget, we as a city have had a whole .. how many years now? Six, seven, eight years, where we’ve not had rate increases even level with inflation. So we’ve really managed the budgets. We’ve taken nearly £80 million out of the costs that this city’s had. We’ve been doing it long before other cities have been doing it, to keep the rates low in Peterborough. So we’ve got to the point where now, if we start taking more cuts, making more cuts than we are already .. have already planned, we have to start cutting back on services.