Opposition have their say on appointment of new Peterborough City Council Leader

Opposition party leaders have given their reaction to the appointment of Tory Group chief cllr Wayne Fitzgerald as Leader of Peterborough City Council.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 5:08 pm
Labour group leader Cllr Shaz Nawaz at the full council meeting.

The new Leader of Peterborough City Council is Conservative Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald who has been Deputy Leader, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, Health and Public Health for the last four years, and represents West Ward.

He accepted his nomination for the role at a ground-breaking meeting (26 May), at the East of England Showground where councillors met face-to-face in the same room for the first time in nearly fifteen months.

Reaction to his appointment for the next four years came from Leader of the Labour Group Cllr Shaz Nawaz, who said: “I congratulate you on your appointment as Leader, but my first observation with your Cabinet, with respect, is that it is very pale, stale and male.

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Lib Dem group leader Cllr Nick Sandford at the full council meeting.

“You’ve only got two lovely women who I have a lot of admiration for, but I would’ve liked to have seen better gender-balance in the Cabinet which would’ve been a good thing.

“My second bugbear – which should come as no surprise to you Leader – is that diversity seems to be something that you’ve forgotten about.

“We have here this evening, new councillors and existing councillors from a diverse background; but they seem to have been missed from your main Cabinet, which is disappointing to say the least, especially as you say you want to champion diversity and inclusivity.

“You’ve talked about 21 years of Conservative rule of this council; but if we look at just last year you drove this council to the verge of bankruptcy.

Green Party group leader Cllr Julie Howell at the full council meeting.

“I don’t wish to spend too much time talking about the past, but when I think about Empower, St Michael’s Gate, Rhubarb Bridge, Hilton Hotel, a lack of housing, low wage economy, North Westgate – which was a dream that I heard about when I was a teenager – these are things that twenty-five years on you’ve still failed to make that happen.

“Health inequality, wealth inequality, income inequality; and yet you stand up and attempt to tell us that the Conservatives are doing a fantastic job – well, I can tell you – you’re not!

“You’ve clearly neglected certain areas, especially the area that I represent; you’ve promised people in Millfield £7.5m, you’ve fooled people and you’ve failed to deliver.

“That pretty much sums up how you will most probably run this particular council.

“Cllr Steve Allen, while I’m pleased you’ve mentioned the City of Culture, I’m a bit disappointed that whilst we had a particular Cabinet role for that purpose, it has been merged into another role which suggests that the Leader is perhaps not as committed to the project as maybe you suggest he is.

“I’m pleased to hear about these new free, bulky-waste collections which is something we’ve asked for in the past and you’ve re-introduced so I’ll be holding you to account on that.

“You talk about the environment. Two years ago, I stood here and told you that the Labour Group would be happy to table a motion on climate change, and that was brought forward by the Greens and yourself which we supported.

“But what I would’ve liked to see, Leader, was a dedicated Cabinet role on the environment to show that you’re committed and serious about the challenges that this city and this country faces.

“What I am absolutely delighted about is that we have a new Labour Metro Mayor who’s going to help us move things forward; so that’s one thing we can agree on, Leader, because I know Mayor Dr. Nik Johnson is dedicated to improving housing, education and skills.

“So, you will have a good person to work with there, and of course we will support you both the best that we can.

“I would like to see more council-owned homes: we’ve heard about the housing revenue account and we’ve brought motions forward to prior councils about that account, so less talking and more action on that would be good.

“I would like us to up-scale our economy so that we can move away from the low-wage economy that we have and create more opportunities for more people.

“As for education, well, that’s a sore point for most of us in this room, Leader. Being rock bottom of the league tables, bumbling around with the lowest figures in the country is not good enough.

“I hope that this is something that you are going to address and take seriously so that we can invest in future generations.

“Most of all, I hope that you are going to reach out and work with all sections of the community. I’ve heard and read some of your comments about ‘Black Lives Matter’, about Extinction Rebellion; but I hope they were made in isolation and we can put them behind us and that you will work with all sections of the community.”

Leader of the LibDems, Cllr Nick Sandford, said: “I’d like to congratulate Cllr Fitzgerald on his appointment as Leader of the council, and the owners of Pizza Express will no doubt be grateful as they can expect a good proportion of his increased allowances to be spent on their promises.

“I think we do need to recognise that the elections that have just taken place were really very good for the Conservatives across the country, but in Peterborough we still remain a hung council; and I would actually ask the Chief Executive and her officers to bear that in mind.

“Therefore, a lot of onus is going to be on the members of the Werrington Group to show that they are what they claim, which is genuine independents who will look at each issue as it comes up, or whether they’re going to consistently vote with the Conservatives?

“I would like to thank Cllr Fitzgerald for giving us advance notice of his Cabinet appointments, its good to see the Cabinet is a bit smaller, but the number of Cabinet advisors has increased.

“I congratulate Cllr Coles for taking on the very difficult role of Cabinet Member for Finance; I hope that he’ll spend less time that his predecessor scoring petty political points on Facebook, and I hope that when we debate the council budget in the chamber, we’ll actually have a debate, and not have it closed to us.

“Twenty years of Conservative rule in Peterborough have taken our council to the edge of financial catastrophe, and this was only averted by a large loan coming out of central government.

“We absolutely recognise that we’ve got a big problem, and if our Cabinet Member adopts a cross-party approach then we will welcome it and engage with him.

“We Welcome the merger of Adult Care and Social Health into one Cabinet portfolio – we really need to look at those as aspects of the same thing.

“Cllr Shaz Nawaz mentioned the level of attainment in our schools, and I notice that this wasn’t mentioned in Cllr Fitzgerald’s speech because urgent action is needed to address that problem.

“What I would really like to see from this administration is some greater join-up between the policies they advocate, and the priorities they action on the ground.

“We all know our country is facing a climate emergency; we’ve all been hit with a public health emergency: I do think Cllr Fitzgerald did a good job in his role during the pandemic and he was helped by hard-work from our officers across the entire authority.

“But our response to climate change has not been good.

“The aspiration is great. We’ve got a policy to get to a carbon-zero state by 2030; but where is the implementation?

“We know that transport is our biggest source of carbon emissions, yet we see traffic continuing to grow.

“We see our recycling percentages – once some of the best in the country – now flat-lining and falling.

“When we proposed action on that to encourage composting by reviewing the brown bin charge, we were told it was unaffordable.

“Yet what do we see the Conservatives now proposing? To give everybody a free, bulky-waste collection, as many as they want, as often as they want.

“And when government and councils across the country are investing massively in tree planting to tackle climate change, what does our council propose? An extra four hundred trees per year! What more do I need to say? It is not the action we need to have.

“It is interesting that from 1 April 2021, public transport became the responsibility of the Combined Authority, and I’m really pleased that new Mayor Dr Nik Johnson has said that he wants to implement bus franchising as soon as possible – that is a welcome thing.

“But we need to do much more than that – we need to have a vision for the future – we need to develop a 21st Century transport system that gives everybody a realistic alternative to the private car.

“I did notice that Cllr Fitzgerald mentioned a lot about the Embankment. He mentioned that there is going to be masterplan.

“But we’ve been promised the masterplan for two years and it hasn’t happened. Loads of deals seem to have been done behind the scenes with the football ground and university.

“We needed the masterplan twelve months ago, but by the time we get it all the key decisions will seem to have been taken.

“So, I wish Cllr Fitzgerald well and I look forward to debating with him on some of these important issues as we move out of the era of pandemic, into what we hope will be a new, exciting and prosperous future for the people of Peterborough.”

Following strict Covid-19 regulations, all councillors sat with a social distance of two meters between them, and all attendees were required to provide negative Covid-19 tests before they were allowed into the Showground.