Nick Sandford and Nazim Khan on Marco Cereste

Elsie Tanner Ena Sharples07:13 Wednesday 18th May 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: In yesterday’s show we were speaking to the Leader of Peterborough City Council, Marco Cereste, after he made changes to his Cabinet at the Council. One of the changes involved Councillor Cereste taking on extra portfolios regarding business engagement, taking over from Councillor Gavin Elsey. Here’s what Mr. Cereste had to say, as he explained his thinking behind the move. (TAPE) “I’ve brought all the business bits and pieces under my portfolio. So now any businessman, any business person, investor, developer, entrepreneur wants to come to the city. You know, that’s my portfolio. It’s my responsibility. And they know where to go.” (LIVE) He went on to admit that the extra workload will be a challenge, so he’s asked the Cabinet Adviser to help him. (TAPE) “It’s far too much for me to do on my own, so we’ve reorganised the support that we had for the Cabinet. And we’ve put a Cabinet adviser in to help me .. And she will have .. personal responsibility for international links, business engagement and tourism” (LIVE) It means Marco is the key decision maker on growth, strategic planning, economic development and business engagement. It’s a lot. So has he taken on more than he can chew? Or do you agree with his plan to make it easier for investors by dealing with just one person? Later in the show we’ll be talking to a man who agrees with Marco’s decisions after eight o’clock. But first let’s hear from two local councillors who have very big concerns over the move, Councillor Nick Sandford Leader of Peterborough’s Liberal Democrat Group, and Councillor Nazin Khan, Leader of Peterborough’s Labour Group. Good morning gentlemen. Nick first of all, what’s your problem? It’s a one-stop shop for businesses coming to the city.
NICK SANDFORD: Yes well we had a one-stop shop. We had Councillor Elsey who was the Cabinet Member, and he appears to have disappeared now. I think the concern really is you’ve got this paradoxical situation. You’ve got the Leader of the Council concentrating even more powers and responsibilities into his own hands, yet at the same time they’ve got the maximum number of Cabinet members that the Government actually permits, even though we’re one of the smallest unitary authorities in the country. And quite a few of these Cabinet members don’t really have any meaningful responsibilties. Yet they’re still being paid £16,000 a year for exercising them.
PAUL STAINTON: But if you want a job done properly, you do it yourself, don’t you, if you think it’s not being done correctly? There are certain instances where we’ve been told of things not happening. He’s taken over it. Dictatorships are good for you sometimes, aren’t they?
NICK SANDFORD: Well I think democracy’s a better system than a dictatorship. (THEY LAUGH) I think it’s an admission from Councillor Cereste. At the Full Council he admitted that the Council’s education policies were a failure. And he’s also admitting that their policies about attracting business to the city have also not been succeeding. You’ve only got to look at Cathedral Square, which was the great icon of Peterborough, where out of about twelve shop units facing onto Cathedral Square, there’s three of them don’t have any tenants in.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. I think that’s going to change shortly, (WHISPERS) from little discussions we’ve had. Nazim Khan is with us as well, Leader of Peterborough’s Labour group. Good morning Nazim.
NAZIM KHAN: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: This is an admission really, isn’t it, of something that Marco is worried about, that other councillors just don’t have the skills required?
NAZIM KHAN: Well I’m going to question whether he has the skill to do the job that he’s taken on, the portfolio, as well.
PAUL STAINTON: Well he’s got many interests in similar fields, hasn’t he?
NAZIM KHAN: Well you look at what he had last year, no portfolios, when he became the Leader. And suddenly he’s the expert in all fields. Now if he is an expert in all fields, why does he need ten Cabinet members, and why does he need an adviser, to advise him on the issues of international links and so forth?
PAUL STAINTON: I mean if he takes on much more, he’ll be a sort of de facto unelected elected mayor, won’t he?
NAZIM KHAN: Well if he takes on more he’ll be a superman, because if you look at a track record, he’s the Leader who left the NHS with a £30 million debt. And he takes on more responsibility, particularly in growth in Peterborough City Council, and he just does not have the time in Peterborough. He’s always all over the place, and he’s got other businesses that he’s running as well. So I do question whether taking on this kind of responsibility, he’ll be able to deliver.
PAUL STAINTON: Why is he doing it then?
NAZIM KHAN: I don’t know. I suppose that he doesn’t have the capability in the Cabinet that he has around him to do that work, because he certainly had a Cabinet portfolio for this last year, and nothing happened. So it’s either that or he’s got division in his Party, that he can’t trust anybody who can deliver that kind of work for him.
PAUL STAINTON: Nick, this is supposed to be a democracy. We voted for .. not this time around, but in total .. for fifty odd councillors. We didn’t vote for one person to do all the jobs, did we?
NICK SANDFORD: Yes well that’s a very good point actually. It’s one of the features of the Cabinet system, one of the things that the Government is doing, pushing a Bill through Parliament aqt the moment to give councils the option to move away from this cabinet system. But we’ve got a version of the Cabinet system where we concentrate all the power in the hands of one person. I think all of this is really about shoring up the position that Councillor Cereste has in the Conservative Group. What you haven’t reported, which I’ve been told, is that he was actually challenged for the Leadership of the Conservative Group ..
PAUL STAINTON: By Wayne Fitzgerald.
NICK SANDFORD: Yes. And he came within only a few votes of having that taken away from him. It was very interesting at the Council meeting, in the ten minute slot where the Leader normally talks about the programme of policies that he’s putting forward, he talked entirely about who he was appointing to the Cabinet. So I think it’s all about not giving these people meaningful responsibilities, but giving them sweeteners to keep them supportive,
PAUL STAINTON: Nazim, what do you think should happen?
NAZIM KHAN: Well I think the responsibilities should be shared, because that’s the whole idea of collective responsibility. And if he lacks the credibility in his Cabinet, or credibility in his Group, then he should look somewhere else.
PAUL STAINTON: OK thank you for that. Councillor Nazim Khan, Leader of Peterborough;s Labour Group, and Nick Sandford, Leader of Peterborough’s LibDem Group. Both unsure what’s going on really, and both quite unhappy with the fact that Marco Cereste is taking on so much of the work himself, in what’s supposed to be a democratic council.

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