Peterborough City Council Liberal Democrat Councillor Nick Sandford responds to the news that Marco Cereste Chairman of NHS Peterborough has tendered his resignation from the Board of NHS Peterborough. This interview was broadcast at 08:17 on Thursday 27th May 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire hosted by Andy Gall.
GALL: So as we’ve been talking about, the Leader of Peterborough City Council has stepped down from his role as Chairman of NHS Peterborough. The Trust is going through a cash crisis and needed to find thirty three million pounds worth of savings this year, after overspending by nearly twelve million pounds last year. Nick Sandford is the Leader of Peterborough’s LibDem group and joins us now. Good morning Nick.
SANDFORD: Good morning.
GALL: So was it the right time for Marco to go?
SANDFORD: Yes. At the recent Council meeting we put a resolution forward saying that for a couple of reasons it’s right for Marco to go. First of all, he needs to take responsibility for the gross financial mismanagement that’s occurred in the Primary Care Trust. But also we felt that there’s a bit of a conflict of interest between his role as Leader of the Council and his role which he’s now resigned from as Chair of the Primary Care Trust, because the Council is one of the main financial providers for the Primary Care Trust
GALL: Did you fear that his portfolio is going to grow, it’s going to go in a different direction, but it’s going to be about growth, development, economic development of the city?
SANDFORD: Yes I think that economic development of the city is actually important. I think we’ve always questioned this idea the Conservatives on the Council are obsessed with, concentrating loads of power in the hands of a single person. Because the new Coalition Government has come into power, one of the great thrusts of that, having financial competence is one of the thrusts, but also actually opening up some of these organisations, making them more open and more democratic. And the Primary Care Trust are the classic example of where you’ve got both financial mismanagement happening, but also a complete lack of accountability.
GALL: Do you think he’s culpable? Do you think Marco Cereste is culpable of mismanagement?
SANDFORD: I don’t know sufficient about the internal workings of the Primary Care Trust to make that sort of accusation. But I think if you’re Chairman of an organisation, and you run a deficit in a year of over twelve million pounds, as we’re told the Primary Care Trust has done, the Chairman has to take responsibility. If there was financial mismanagement in the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Chairman of the Board of Governors would hopefully take some responsibilty for that.
GALL: Well we heard earlier from Mary Cooke who’s from Peterborough Pensioners’ Society. She says that someone with medical experience should be chosen to replace Marco as Chairman of the Board. But I can’t make sense of that, because I don’t think .. it’s a numbers thing isn’t it? It’s not about anything other than that. You have to be very savvy with accounts and budgets, don’t you?
SANDFORD: Yes. I’m a Trustee of a charity, and you need on the Board of any organisation, you need people with financial experience, you need people with legal experience. But what you fundamentally need in a body like the Primary Care Trust is people with democratic accountability. And the current Government that’s come into power has got a major constitutional reform programme, and actually tackling the secrecy and the lack of accountability in bodies like the Primary Care Trust is a fundamental part of that.
GALL: Now that Marco Cereste is responsible for growth, do you fear that some of the projects that you want scrapped will be pushed through? Because you’ve been a bit cynical of some of his overall vision of the future of this city, in all the different boroughs and districts that he wants to have spruced up.
SANDFORD: Yes. I wouldn’t say we’ve been cynical. We’ve taken what we think is a constructive and realistic view that we think that having growth is important, but having sustainable growth is even more important. And we also think that the Council needs to show greater financial responsibility. And the new Chancellor, George Osborne was having a go at Stoke-on-Trent. He was saying they squandered each year eight million pounds on consultants. The Leader of our Council has actually admitted that we spent over twelve million pounds on consultants. And when one of his own Scrutiny Committees tried to create an inquiry, he actually removed the person. Councillor Michael Fletcher was going to be Chairman of that Committee, and he personally removed him. So you’ve got an example there of not prudent use of financial resources, but also you’ve got the Leader of the Council who’s interfering in the scrutiny process.
GALL: There’s been a culture of consultants though amongst most parts of industry for as long as I can remember, certainly. And you’re saying you want to try and make these institutions a lot leaner and meaner. It’s something that many governments in the past have tried to do with the NHS, but …
SANDFORD: Well I think this current Government is absolutely committed to it as a fundamental principle. I think that’s what’s different from what has gone on in the past. But it’s not only the consultants. You’ve got all the stuff happening in Cathedral Square, which everybody I know ..
GALL: It’s opening on Tuesday.
SANDFORD: Well we hope it’s opening on Tuesday.
GALL: Marco .. Marco Cereste .. maybe that’s what he’s doing. Maybe he’s just checking some of the pipes.
SANDFORD: Maybe he’s finishing off the fountains. (LAUGHS) It might be quite nice when it opens, but is it worth all the public money that’s been poured into it? You’ve got the Council’s incineration plan, over sixty million pounds of taxpayers’ money is going to be spent on that, where it’s been proven … you’ve only got to go to the neighbouring authorities and see that there are cheaper more environmentally sustainable alternatives. Marco’s water taxis is another .. these are what I call grandiose projects. If we’re in an era of massive prosperity, where there’s lots of money sloshing around, we could probably afford that. But we need, at these sort of times, we need .. Peterborough City Council need to be focusing on providing the basic fundamental services.
GALL: Even so though, you still have to invest to make Peterborough a place that companies want to come to, and people want to come to. So there’s a balance there.
SANDFORD: Yes but why does investing in incinerators and investing in fountains in Cathedral Square .. I can’t imagine if I was the chief executive of a major company, I would say we must go to Peterborough because they’ve got some nice water features in Cathedral Square. I can’t believe that the chief executives of major organisations use that sort of criteria.
GALL: Just one more thing before you go, Nick. Will leaving the NHS Trust Board without a Chairman at this stage mean recovery within the Trust will be damaged?
SANDFORD: They obviously need to get a Chairman in place fairly quickly. What they seem to have done is employ some consultants to advise them on getting out of the financial situation. I think that is just going down completely the wrong road. As I was saying earlier, opening up these bodies to greater democratic accountability is the way forward.
GALL: I think you have to be careful sometimes that the term consultancy can be unfairly maligned, can’t it. Because consultants, they can be good and bad, and it’s how you use that situation.
SANDFORD: We accept that you can, if you’ve got a specific job for a short period, you may be best employing a consultant. The problem we’ve got with Peterborough City Council is there are senior officers in the Council who have been employed as consultants over three years, four years, and five years, and they move from one consultancy job into another. Given tha fact that you have to pay twice the salary effectively for a consultant, that is not a prudent use of the taxpayers money.
GALL: OK Nick thank you very much for talking to us this morning. That’s Nick Sandford who’s the Leader of Peterborough’s LibDem group.