Cereste Pleads Ignorance and Blames Others for Purdah Breach

vote08:06 Monday 11th April 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: The English Democrats have accused the ruling Conservative Party of electioneering ahead of next month’s local elections. It follows the news on Friday that Stanground College and Orton Longueville Schools would share £34 million pounds for major rebuilding works. Jonathan Lewis from the City Council broke the news on the show. (TAPE)
JONATHAN LEWIS: When we started the Building Schools for the Future programme, we put aside £40 million to support the overall building of the school, assuming then Government funding was coming on top. We still have around £34 million of that money left, and now we feel is the right time to start the build work with the money we have, and an expectation that there will still be money from Government, and you know, we’re fairly confident we will get something. But we want to get on. We want to transform the schools. And we want to make a difference. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: However, Opposition parties have questioned whether this announcement should have been made at such a politically sensitive time. Earlier, we heard from Councillor Stephen Goldspink. He’s standing in Stanground Central ward for the English Democrats. (TAPE)
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: They’ve known about this money being in the budget since back in February, when it was published. They were apparently going to spend £73 million on the schools. Now they’re only going to spend £34 million, and hope they get some Government money on top. But why announce it now? They’ve known all about this for a long long time, and there was no reason to announce it right in the middle of an election period. It came from the schools, but it also came from the Education Department. You’ve spoken to Jon Lewis. And they rang up the schools, told them the news last Wednesday, because I checked with the schools. They could have said to the schools, keep this to yourselves please. It’s an election period, and there’s a convention that we do not make major announcements during election periods. They didn’t do that. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: We also heard from the Labour candidate Chris York in the first hour of the show. Also standing in Stanground central, John Swallow for the Independents, and Marco Cereste for the Conservatives, Leader of Peterborough City Council, who joins me now. Morning Marco.
MARCO CERESTE: Hello Paul. Beautiful day.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s gorgeous, yes. Gorgeous weekend.
MARCO CERESTE: Absolutely fabulous weekend. Hope you enjoyed it.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes it was lovely, all across Peterborough. Great pictures right across the city. How do you respond to these accusations that the timing is blatant electioneering?
MARCO CERESTE: I didn’t know anything about it Paul. I, you know, not involved in it whatsoever, and you know, I then knew .. I was as surprised as everybody else ..
MARCO CERESTE: .. so I thought it was done for very very good reasons, which I understand, probably to do with the Kier contract, and the timing. You know, it is what it is. Personally I’m really pleased for the schools, and as Councillor Goldspink said, it’s not news really, is it? I mean, you and I have been going on about it enough times since last February. And I’ve been talking about refurbishing the school since last September. So I don’t know. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. All I know, it’s really really good news for the schools. It’s fantastic news for those kids who desperately need some new facilities. I’m just, you know ..
PAUL STAINTON: I don’t think anybody disputes that it’s fantastic news that this money is going to be spent, but I think going back as far as February, it was agreed, wasn’t it, that this announcement wouldn’t be made until the Government pledged their pot of money as well, to match the Council’s funding?
MARCO CERESTE: Well I’m not aware of that. All I know is that all along, I have said that if we didn’t get .. if we didn’t get the Government’s money, we will find .. we would find another way of funding the schools. Now I don’t know why the Education Department went and told the headmistresses, the headmaster or the headmistress, at exactly that moment. They did, and the schools apparently went public with it. That’s as much as I know why it happened.
PAUL STAINTON: Is it being used in Conservative election literature for this election, in the ward?
MARCO CERESTE: Not that I’ve seen it at the moment, no. Have you seen any Conservative election literature with it in? Obviously I’m now going to use it. It’s gone public, and I will use it, when I’m issuing my literature. But even if it hadn’t gone public, I would have made a pledge, and have always pledged, that we will have a new school in Stanground, as the local ward councillor.
PAUL STAINTON: Can I put a text to you Marco? Ian in Farcet says “a canvasser of Marco Cereste’s said there was good news about Stanground College over two weeks ago, when he canvassed my address.”
MARCO CERESTE: Yes. Well, you know, there is good news about Stanground College, all along. It’s in my budget Paul. There’s been £34 million in my budget. Why would people say we’re not going to build Stanground School. when somebody on their doorsteps says, well, you know, we’re not going to get a new school, and I say, well, I’m sorry, but there is going to be a new school. There always was going to be a new school Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Wouldn’t it have been better though Marco .. it’s the timing here that’s upsetting people. Wouldn’t it have been better to wait until after the elections? What is the reason for having to put the announcement out just before the May election?
MARCO CERESTE: Well I didn’t put the announcement out just before the May election. And so if anybody’s done something they shouldn’t have done, I understand that everbody has behaved perfectly appropriately. It’s nothing to do with me. But again Paul, I say to you mate, you know, people of Stanground have always known, I always promised them a new school. It’s not something new. Since last September I’ve been saying, don’t believe the rumours. We’re going to have a new school, you know, in February, it’s in the Budget. I mean you know what more public document can you have than the budget? It’s in the budget, £34 million for two new schools.
PAUL STAINTON: The Chief Executive, nonetheless, of Peterborough City Council, is investigating this, to see if rules of purdah have been breached.
MARCO CERESTE: And quite right. And quite right, quite right. You know, if they have, then, you know, action will be taken. But (LAUGHS) you know mate, I keep repeating, it’s nothing to do with me. (LAUGHS) All I’ve done is, I’m the ward councillor for Stanground, and I’m the Leader of the city. I think education is so important in our city. We, you know, we produced this year probably the best budget of any city in the country. And part of that budget is clear, it’s open for anybody to see, was money in there for the schools.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Are you confident there’s enough money there for the schools, on a separate subject. We were hoping for Government funding to makc this, to build them. Are we, you know .. part of the fear from some of the councillors was that we’re going to get a sub-standard build for Orton and Stanground.
MARCO CERESTE: No no. That’s not going to happen. That is not going to happen. Because, you know, without going into too much detail, I think we’re going to get two really good schools. One’s going to be refurbished. One’s going to be a brand new build. And I think everybody will be delighted. I’m sure they will.
PAUL STAINTON: Marco, thank you for that this morning, appreciate that. Marco Cereste, Leader of Peterborough City Council, standing for the Conservatives in the Stanground Central ward. Also standing in that election, Stephen Goldspink for the English Democrats, Chris York for Labour, and John Swallow for the Independents. And Marco there, saying done nothing wrong. Very happy to have an investigation into any possible breaches of purdah which is this thing where people are not allowed to talk about anything to do with promoting candidates in an election period.