Cllr Shaz Nawaz, leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council:
If you think about it, it’s amazing how much of our lives are filled with stories, and ones which aren’t necessarily true. A well-known brand of cola suggests that it is the ultimate form of refreshment but when compared to plain ordinary water, it has no particular advantages. Indeed, the chemicals, sugars and other ingredients illustrate the product’s inferiority for this purpose. Health professionals agree: it’s bad for you. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop people from drinking it.
Political narratives are often more about stories than reality. This last election, my team and I got to listen to a number of them: for example, if the Conservative administration is to be believed, it is Labour who are profligate with money, and they are the paragons of fiscal rectitude.
In situations such as this, one should look at the facts that hide behind the narrative. If this council is so good with money, and operated according to sound business principles, it would not possess its present track record.
Let’s begin with Fletton Quays: the £15 million loan guarantee for a hotel is still in dispute; there has been a troubling change of ownership which both the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups have questioned. The council has promised this loan will make the city money: but they have yet to explain why a major hotel chain would require a loan from the hard-pressed taxpayers of Peterborough to locate here if the business case made sense on its own. The rent-free concession to Greggs the baker is similarly worrisome.
In this vein, it was reported that Peterborough City Council will have to spend £270,000 to prepare the town hall for a health care trust to move in; it will cost the city £69,000 per annum to repay the required loan for (at present) an unspecified number of years.
Then we have the recent case of Peterborough City Council’s computer systems. As has been noted in this newspaper, these are being replaced for the second time in two years, at a cost in excess of £4 million.
This needless extravagance is all taking place at a time of considerable cuts to the city’s grant from central government, and deficits that are yet to be resolved. What causes me the most consternation is that this our money: the people of Peterborough wake up early, work hard, and pay their taxes: income, VAT and Council Tax. It is not being handled like the precious resource that it is. Worse, this pound-foolish mismanagement has been given the label of “prudence”.
I am an accountant and independent businessman: we have a number of self-employed councillors in the Labour Group who are acutely aware of the difficult challenges for businesses and families operating on a shoestring. When elected, we will not offer just the appearance of prudence and fiscal rectitude, we will be exemplars of it. Rather than only claim to be measured, pragmatic and practical in our dealings, we actually will be.