An old saying goes, “You can ignore reality, but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality,” writes Cllr Shaz Nawaz, leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council in his weekly column.
For far too long, the Conservative Administration didn’t want to admit the scale of the financial challenges that face the council; last week, it was revealed that £33 million in savings are required.
Cuts from central government continue, but this is also symptomatic of chronic mismanagement.
I don’t share Councillor Holdich’s airy assumption that technology will help us do more with less. Technology is useful, but hitherto this Administration has shown little talent for it, as evidenced by their flip-flop from Microsoft to Google back to Microsoft technologies. We got a taste of what is to come when it was said 75 Peterborough council staff could be made redundant.
In the post-Thatcher era, the knee-jerk reaction to hearing about such cuts is “good”: that’s one less salary for which the taxpayer is liable. However, these staff are delivering public services. It is rather like paying for your car to be repaired but being told that there are less mechanics to do it; by the way, would you like to linger on and hold a bit longer, your call is important to us, please stand by.
We pay for public services with our taxes. We have been through nearly a decade of austerity, yet the cuts keep coming. We pay higher council taxes. The services we get in return continue to decline. Our roads degrade, our schools are deprived of resources; yet there is money for vanity projects like Fletton Quays, which require offering concessions to get businesses to move in.
If we dealt with a business that was so profligate and yet continued to reduce services, we would rightly look elsewhere. The people of Peterborough have noticed the consequences of ignoring reality creep in; that’s partially why they elected Lisa Forbes to be our MP. It’s time to ask the Conservative Administration some very hard questions; for example, “You have been in power for 18 years. The national government is the same complexion as you are. How did you get yourself into such a catastrophic hole? How come the government didn’t listen to you and spare us some of the worst?”
I suspect the reply would be some flummery about Labour’s record in office, even though the Conservatives have controlled this council for 19 years. It’s far easier to deflect the blame than to take responsibility: after nine years of running the country as a whole, and 19 running our city, whatever mistakes were made, whatever failures occurred, these are now owned by this Administration and the party behind it. But I doubt they will own up to their errors; they have hitherto shown a reluctance to do so, and we cannot expect them to change their habits so late in the day.
What we can hope is that as the consequences of ignoring reality unfold that the voters will make a different choice next May.