Peterborough City Council Labour group leader Cllr Shaz Nawaz:
The two most worn out phrases in local government are “efficiency savings” and “do more with less”. We’ve been hearing them since 2010; meanwhile, the grant from central government to councils like ours has been cut by 80%.
It doesn’t take a great deal of common sense to spot the problem: there’s only so many efficiency savings you can make, there’s only so much more you can do with less. As the cuts have continued, our council has decided to do less with less. They raise their voice in protest to their compatriots in central government, but apparently in vain. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable bear the brunt.
The Labour Group believes that in the absence of a Labour government in Westminster, we need to do what we can ourselves and be imaginative. Ours is a vision of local renewal: a good place to begin is our procurement policies.
It can’t have escaped notice that when the council spends its money, it’s often on firms that aren’t based in our city. We work hard, contribute to the local economy, but, strangely, the fruits of our labour aren’t helping local businesses nor enhancing our communities. The Labour Group believes that this must change: there should be a preference for local firms in bidding for any council contracts. Furthermore, we believe that contracts should not be judged solely on the basis of cost, rather, their total economic, social and environmental value should be also assessed.
Doing this makes profound economic sense: by recycling the council’s money through the community, it will create employment, encourage the further development of local businesses, and help create prosperity locally.
In the longer term, the Labour Group believes that the co-operative model should be more widely applied. This can be used to provide services such as transport; a recent report in the Guardian newspaper stated that a co-operative in David Cameron’s former constituency of Witney, founded by a local Labour councillor, is providing bus services to villages that would otherwise be cut off due to cuts to public transport.
A co-operative called B4RN based in rural Lancashire provides fibre broadband to isolated communities that rivals that of major cities. We have an example of a successful creative design co-operative in our city, Paper Rhino. The city of Preston attributes its recent revival to co-operatives and what has been called “community wealth building”.
In 2016, Preston was voted as the best city in North West England in which to live and work. Given this success, the council should be playing a leading role in encouraging more co-operatives to come into being and developing a community wealth strategy; the Labour Group has the ambition of achieving at least the same accolade. We would like Peterborough to be the best city in the East of England, and one of the best in the country, in which to live and work; with imagination and persistence, this is possible.