Opposition councillors hit back at Peterborough City Council leader’s call for them to do more

Opposition councillors have accused the leader of Peterborough City Council of misrepresenting their involvement in the struggle to resolve the local authority’s £27 million funding crisis.

By Paul Grinnell
Friday, 18th February 2022, 5:00 am
Cllr Shaz Nawaz, Labour group leader.
Cllr Shaz Nawaz, Labour group leader.

The leaders of three opposition groups have hit out after Conservative Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald urged them to do more to share the responsibility in the battle to resolve council’s financial woes.

Cllr Fitzgerald has previously said he was frustrated by opposition councillors’ public criticism of the council’s proposed budget even though, he says, they have had a key say in putting the financial plan together.

But Cllr Shaz Nawaz, leader of the Labour group, Cllr Nick Sandford, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, and Cllr Julie Howell, the Green group lead, say they have always been deeply involved in helping the ruling Conservative group since the £27 million crisis was made known.

Cllr Nick Sandford, Lib Dem group leader.

In a joint letter to the Peterborough Telegraph, the three councillors state: “We do agree that we are all in this together, and we became councillors precisely because we believe we can make a positive contribution to Peterborough.

“But this clouding of the facts and misrepresentation of our involvement needs to stop as it is detracting attention from the important task at hand.

They add: “We were disappointed to read that Peterborough council’s leader, Cllr Fitzgerald, persists with his assertion that opposition groups are not helping the Conservative administration to set a balanced budget.

“There is no question at all that opposition group councillors have given much of our time and expertise.

Councillor Julie Howell, Leader of the Green Group on Peterborough City Council EMN-210825-095423001

“Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green councillors have been heavily involved in providing assistance to Cllr Fitzgerald’s party since it was made known to us that the Council is facing a deficit of £27 million.”

In an effort to close the £27 million gulf in its finances, the council, in its budget for the next financial year is proposing a Council Tax hike of 2.99 per cent and spending cuts of £12.6 million and other savings.

The authority has also been warned that Government officials will take over the running of the council if it cannot balance its budget.

But the opposition leaders state: “We would remind Cllr Fitzgerald that it is the Conservative government that has cut funding to local councils to the tune of £40 million, while successive Conservative-led councils in Peterborough have been responsible for setting the budget here for the last 21 years.

“Opposition groups were not made aware of the depth of the city’s financial crisis until two independent reports were made public last year, at which time we immediately offered to help the Conservative administration in its plight.”

They also say that efforts to get to grips with the funding crisis have been hampered by a lack of time between receiving documents and key meetings.

They write: “We are often only shown crucial documents hours before we are expected to comment on them, which scarcely gives us time to research alternative proposals or to consult council officers.

“Cllr Fitzgerald may recall a meeting of the full Council in March 2021, where the mayor decided not to permit any debate of the Council budget, and how opposition groups protested, because we feel that in a healthy democracy the opposition should be given the opportunity to respond.

“It should also be noted that the Council’s cabinet comprises Conservative councillors only, who receive a combined total of £250k in Special Responsibility Allowances.

It is therefore perplexing that Cllr Fitzgerald expects opposition councillors, who do not receive these allowances, to contribute so much of our time and expertise, while chastising us for not doing enough.”

They state: “We have been willing help since it was first made clear that our help is needed, and we cannot fathom why Cllr Fitzgerald finds it so difficult to thank us for this contribution.

“Instead, he repeatedly implies that we are not involved.

“We trust that the residents of Peterborough can see that opposition councillors take our responsibility for the wellbeing of the city seriously.

“Being in opposition means that we will challenge the Conservative administration were necessary and when we feel doing so is right for Peterborough.

“In the past, we have stopped some cuts from going through that would have been detrimental to the city.

“We will continue to submit ideas, just as we have for previous budgets.

They add: “If Cllr Fitzgerald feels we are not contributing to his satisfaction, then he should call a meeting with us to discuss his concerns.

“We hope this is the last time we will need to spend valuable time writing to the media on this subject.”