Following the recent by-election, and the European and local elections before that, one might expect that elected members would quickly re-align the focus of their attention closer to home, writes Cllr Stephen Lane, leader of the Werrington First group on Peterborough City Council, in the Speaker’s Corner column.
Whilst they have all been important to political parties, these major events had a tendency to swamp over local issues that are really the essence of a councillor’s role.
Any lack of attention to these means the city’s prospects and long-term future could suffer.
Thankfully, and with no party affiliation, we three independent members on Peterborough City Council were detached from all involvement in the above, and our role remained clear throughout as we maintained a close relationship with our community. We had no distraction nor accountability to any political faction and, apart from taking the time to cast our own votes, we continued our commitment to playing a part in helping to make Peterborough a place where its residents are proud to live.
Going forward, we will also play a small part in helping the council’s excellent finance officers create a sustainable budget for next year. The annual rounds of cross-party budget planning have commenced and whilst we admit to not having the resources or back-office structures, nor any expertise in this area of council business, we are still happy to take part and keep a watchful eye on the process.
Ours is one of the fastest growing cities in the country in terms of population growth and demands for local services grow as a result, but with no sign of Government easing up on its austerity drive there is a risk that the next Local Government Spending Review will leave us with the leanest outcome yet. So far, Peterborough has met the challenge of budget pressures each year since 2010, and we hope it can still meet most of its statutory obligations, despite the knowledge that it will be tough.
However, the city still needs help from all involved. The schedule for planning and delivery, as always, is very tight, but could be made so much easier if our body of elected members get their heads together and make it work. In the past, different parties in Peterborough have been so intent on playing petty, party politics with each other that the city’s particular needs were at risk of not being given the priority they require. Decision making was often based on: ‘What will the other political group do?’ and at times, opposition parties would offer a senseless or confused counter proposal. We’ve seen motions put forward simply because the party whip instructed them to vote the opposite way. That is just madness and completely non-productive.
So, we say to them that enough is enough. Just like many other well-meaning and hard-working councillors, we despair of the devastation that government cuts have produced, so we make another plea for unity in the council chamber. The time for campaigning is at election time and ask that just for once, can we focus on outcomes and less on party politics.
It does not have to be a dereliction of political ideology, and we don’t expect anyone to throw off their allegiance, but we do urge everyone to realise that now is the time to stand up to party whips and vote for the people who voted for them.
Because, if Government fails to adequately fund this city, it will be those same people that suffer the consequence.