Opinion: Change is a threat to stability

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Many changes took place at Monday evening’s City Council AGM, from mayor making, resignations and the formation of a new council administration, writes Mohammed Farooq (Peterborough First).

What struck me most was the council going from its most stable period of cross-party working with a well-functioning council to a period of uncertainty. From passing a budget unanimously only a matter of months ago to a new leadership that was only supported by 20 Councillors out of 60. I have great concern for the future business of the council.

How did it come to this? Peterborough First made great efforts to try to ensure the collaborative approach we had led since November would continue. We can always reflect and say both parties should have perhaps tried more, but it was an impossible situation with various ping ponging and withdrawal of pledges along the way by the Labour group. Even hours before the meeting, they went back on their word in an offer to our group.

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As a group we took over the council administration only when we knew we had enough cross-chamber support for council business to be carried out, which means you need a working majority of 31 out of 60 elected Councillors on the same page. To have only 20 Councillors vote for the new administration doesn’t bode well for council business, and it is imperative the new administration resolve this with a deal of urgency. Clarity on policies and priorities, not reneging on offers to each of the political groups, and open and transparent dialogue will be essential if the support of 20 is to grow. For the City’s sake I hope we can find a way to serve the City with a robust majority and efforts should begin as soon as possible, efforts we support.

Peterborough First's  Cllr Mohammed FarooqPeterborough First's  Cllr Mohammed Farooq
Peterborough First's Cllr Mohammed Farooq

It was the greatest privilege to serve as leader of the council, and I am proud of not just what we achieved in very challenging circumstances but also the tone we set in the chamber. I thank all of our cross-political colleagues for their support, my cabinet and group members for working incredibly hard for the residents of Peterborough. I am also immensely thankful to the officer team for their support of my administration. And I am thankful to all the city stakeholders who appreciated our fresh and open approach.

We had a small space of time to make some rapid progress in our time in administration. We immediately tackled issues from legacy projects and decisions, we worked on the council’s partnerships with other companies and streamlining the council functions to ensure the taxpayer gets best value for money.

In November our children services were inspected by OFSTED and judged as inadequate. My administration has been working hard to put a system in place to ensure that vulnerable children in our city are protected. The future of our city is in our children. I know having been a Leader, there are some incredibly tough decisions coming down the pipeline for the city’s decision makers. There are issues to tackle that are even tougher than what we have dealt with these last few months, and for our city’s sake a robust cabinet is needed with wide support across the chamber.

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We started some exciting projects and ambitions which we hope to see taken forwards. Revitalising the city centre with a business case for Cathedral Square and Guildhall. The table was empty of plans for a new swimming pool when we came into administration, but Officers are now working hard on a business case which we hope the new Cabinet will push onwards. We especially want to see the case for a 50m pool brought forwards and will support cross-party to ensure the needs of the city are served with the new pool provision.

The transport and connectivity plan has unlocked new and improved bus routes for a city, and whilst politicians of all colours are now endorsing the announcements, it is clear we only got to this position because Peterborough First broke down the walls of local politics to approve the plan and the millions of pounds it has subsequently brought the city for better connectivity. The advantage of a group who always put the people of our city before politics.

I want to commend Nene Park Trust for their Peterborough Celebrates Festival. It was a great success, and I am glad the weather was kind. Thousands of residents enjoyed the event and it’s a fantastic event to connect communities and encourage more visitors to Ferry Meadow too. Nene Park is another jewel in the crown of Peterborough and it was lovely to see it so well attended for the festival.

As always we continue to put Peterborough First and look forward to contributing in the chamber and in our wards.