LibDem Opinion: Changing how decisions are made in Peterborough

Nick Sandford, Lib Dem group leader on Peterborough City Council

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 17th April 2022, 9:47 am
LibDem group leader Nick Sandford
LibDem group leader Nick Sandford

It has been said many times that Peterborough City Council is failing financially under the double whammy of cuts in grant from central government (Conservative) and financial mismanagement over many years by the council cabinet (also Conservative). That’s why we are seeing threatened cuts in library and cultural services: And it’s also a big factor behind the decision in the past few days to “mothball” the much loved St George’s Hydrotherapy Pool.

The Conservatives have run Peterborough for over 20 years. Many people all over Peterborough are coming to the conclusion that it’s time for a change. Liberal Democrats want to see vital services competently and efficiently run, but we also want to see a more fundamental change in the way the council operates and how it responds to the views and needs of Peterborians. Lib Dem, Labour and Green councillors have been talking for some time about developing an alternative vision for our city. And most residents tell us they like the idea of councillors from different parties (and independents) working together to find solutions to our city’s many problems.

The Lib Dems believe that the current decision-making process on Peterborough City Council is failing residents. We feel that power is held in the hands of too few ‘senior’ councillors and, as a result, decisions are often forced through without adequate consultation. The Lib Dems want to change how decisions are made to make them more transparent and inclusive, and to give people a real say in the way their local communities are run. In wards that have Liberal Democrat councillors, people see our belief in ‘Community Politics’ in action, through regular Focus newsletters to keep people informed and regular surveys to seek people’s views and then act upon them.

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First-past-the-post elections have blighted our politics for too long. They reduce diversity of ideas and representation. In Scotland and Northern Ireland they have a much better local election voting system where all parties get a fair share of the seats up for election. We would lobby government to give councils the power to change the voting system and lower the minimum voting age to 16, to give a greater voice to young people.

So, if we get to a position of power or influence within the city council, we will:

- Scrap the ‘leader and cabinet system’ and have all key decisions made by council committees that meet and hold debates in public

- Increase public engagement through more online broadcasting of meetings and increase opportunities for members of the public to speak at them and ask questions

- Expand the role and powers of Full Council (a meeting of all councillors) so that it once again becomes the ‘Parliament of Peterborough’, rather than just being a piece of theatre or a talking shop, as regretfully it is a present

- In the longer term, 
create area committees with real powers, so that councillors and residents in particular areas of the city have a real say in how money is spent and services delivered. Or, if residents prefer, strengthen the responsibilities and powers of parish councils

- Promote and celebrate the diverse backgrounds of many of the residents of Peterborough through more cross-community events, to lower the barriers to integration and develop a strategy for supporting people who wish to learn English where it is not their first language.

Taken together these would not be mere structural changes but a fundamental change in the way the city council is run and how it engages with its citizens. Maybe you are happy with how things are and with how the Conservatives are running our city. But if not, you may agree with the Liberal Democrats that it’s time for a change.