Mohammed Farooq: New council leader says Peterborough First can run council 'better' than outgoing Conservatives
and live on Freeview channel 276
Peterborough First decided to try to take over Peterborough City Council (PCC) after realising it could do a better job than the outgoing Conservative administration, its new leader has said.
Cllr Mohammed Farooq (Peterborough First, Hargate and Hempsted) is now at the helm of the authority after a vote of no confidence saw ex-leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald (Conservatives, West) ousted at a council meeting this week.
Peterborough First is the collection of 11 independent councillors which brought about the vote, backed by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.
Most of them are ex-Conservatives, having resigned from the party earlier this year.
After scrutinising decisions made at a full council meeting together in summer, they realised they could do better, Cllr Farooq said.
“All of a sudden we started looking at each other and said, we're in it for the same thing, aren't we? We could run this better. We could do it better,” he said. “And then that's where the whole momentum and the whole energy came together.”
The new administration will also be “more stable” and “more financially astute” than before, he added.
‘We want to move away from novelty projects’
But while Peterborough First clearly wants a culture change at PCC, it doesn’t want to rock the boat by introducing lots of new policies and ideas, rather seeing its job as guiding the council through the storms it’s already facing.
“We want to move away from novelty projects – projects which have cost the council a huge amount of money – such as the [Hilton] hotel,” Cllr Farooq said.
“We’ll make sure we never, ever move away from our core duties.”
The outgoing administration has repeatedly said that the council’s investment in the new hotel at Fletton Quays is safe despite repeated delays to its completion as it would own the property in full if its £15m loan to property developers is defaulted on.
Cllr Farooq says we ‘will not hesitate’ to amend region-wide transport plan
One of the reasons former opposition councillors such as the Liberal Democrats gave for supporting Peterborough First’s vote of no confidence was dissatisfaction with what they see as a last-minute decision to veto Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor Nik Johnson’s region-wide transport plan because it references the possibility of road charging as one way to reduce private car use.
But Cllr Farooq has said that Peterborough First will “negotiate every single line and make sure it delivers for Peterborough” before agreeing to sign up to it.
“If we feel that isn’t beneficial to our city, we will not hesitate to amend it,” he said of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP). “And if we feel it is beneficial to our city, no doubt we’ll sign up to it.”
Another major piece of work Peterborough First will now have to guide the council through is setting its newest budget, which it says it’s confident it can do with the majority of councillors on its side (together, the group, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens make up more than fifty per cent of PCC councillors).
Peterborough First, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens are ‘on the same page’
But this is a disparate collection of parties and Peterborough First will no doubt face fierce opposition from the Conservatives – which remain the largest individual party – and which has said it won’t recognise the new administration’s legitimacy.
On top of that, Peterborough First doesn’t have a whip, meaning individual members are free to vote in council decisions how they like.
Indeed, Cllr Stephen Lane (Peterborough First, Werrington) voted against the motion of no confidence in Cllr Fitzgerald even though his group spearheaded it, saying he fears “no good can come from it”.
But Cllr Farooq insists that his group – and his new Labour, Lib Dem and Green colleagues – are aligned.
“If we all have the same objective, which is wanting the best for Peterborough, ninety-nine per cent of the time you will always be on the same page,” he said of his own group.
As for the other parties, “we are on the same page on all the policies,” he said, “and we would like the Conservatives to come and support that” for the “benefit of the residents of the city”.
Looking to the future, Cllr Farooq says he’s “not concerned at all” that Peterborough First could lose some of its members in future local elections such as the next one expected in May.
Local people elect local representatives because they’re a “good councillor” not because of party politics, he insisted.
Peterborough First plans to stand more candidates at council elections
The group is also planning to stand more candidates: which could help to address the fact that Cllr Farooq’s new cabinet is currently entirely male if the group remains in power.
There’s “definitely room to change in future”, he said, while his deputy Cllr John Howard (Peterborough First, Hargate and Hempsted) said the group already has a “really interesting mix of candidates who want to stand for us as Peterborough First who wouldn't naturally stand for a political party”.
Addressing criticism from the Conservatives that most of Peterborough First weren’t elected under that banner, Cllr Farooq said that being voted in as leader by the “overwhelming majority” of councillors means he has a legitimate mandate to lead.
At the council meeting at which he was appointed, 32 councillors voted in favour of his leadership, while 19 voted against. Two abstained.