What price local democracy?

Peterborough Telegraph's Man behind the mic column by Paul Stainton, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire host - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
Peterborough Telegraph's Man behind the mic column by Paul Stainton, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire host - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
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We have already lost the Dodo and the lesser spotted Jacko (although it didn’t take the latter long to secure his Brexit bonus), now it appears the city is also on the endangered species list, alongside the white rhino and Princess Diana’s cassette player.

Our new ‘Metro Mayor’ for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer, has called for an independent review of the way we are governed in this county, whilst at the same time, defending his decision to take on seventeen staff at the new Combined Authority, with salaries totalling just short of £1m a year.

It’s a lot of wonga to spend for a man who claimed he was going to run a lean, mean spending machine and the announcement was heavily criticised by some, for duplicating roles that already exist at other authorities, although he hasn’t advertised for any security guards yet.

Mayor Palmer claimed on the ‘Big Conversation,’ on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, that “We are the most over-governed part of the country and it’s clear that we need to sort it out.”

Former Peterborough City Council leader, sense talker and all round speaker of his mind, Charlie Swift, agreed, arguing that councillors at the Town Hall “Run nothing these days and are a waste of space.”

So, perhaps we should ditch our councillors, sell off the Town Hall and save a fortune in sarnie bills.

But can we put our trust in this one man (and his seventeen staff) to lead us into the promised land, or would that be the very antithesis of democracy and what would our poor, out of work, councillors do then?

Councillor Peach is too old to work down the mine and Bella Saltmarsh is far too young to retire (I dare not risk upsetting Bella!). I suppose Darren Fower’s Flowers has a certain ring to it, but I am not sure of his horticultural expertise, whilst the ever youthful, Steve Allen, could always chuck a bit of mobile disco work Wayne Fitzgerald’s way. The big issues here are democracy and accountability and whether the Combined Authority and its Mayor would work in the best interests of Peterborough. He may have a billion pounds burning a hole in pocket but once you have built a railway station in Wisbech, extended the M11 and built thousands of affordable homes, there might not be a lot left for a proper University in Peterborough.

Whether you think the folks in the Town Hall are doing a good job or a bad job, at least they are part of your community and available to moan at or congratulate, and for some it’s a little bit rich of James Palmer to overnight become yet another layer of local government - and then claim that there are too many layers of local government!

But, maybe the man has a point; maybe we don’t need all these councillors and different layers of so-called democracy; maybe we could save a fortune by distilling it all down into a single layer of governance; maybe that was the plan all along. Less Councillors, directors, officers, managers and assistants and more money left in the pot to spend on the things that matter.

Who knows, our council tax might even go down!