Peterborough's Labour leader says running the council has 'never been a huge ambition'

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‘Does Peterborough need a third leader in just over six months?’

Peterborough’s Labour leader says running the council has “never been a huge ambition”.

Cllr Dennis Jones (Labour, Dogsthorpe) said he “wouldn’t turn the opportunity down”, but doesn’t necessarily anticipate taking on the job after this year’s local elections either.

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“Does Peterborough need a third leader in just over six months?” he added.

Peterborough Labour leader Dennis JonesPeterborough Labour leader Dennis Jones
Peterborough Labour leader Dennis Jones

Peterborough First, a group largely made up of ex-Conservative councillors, currently runs Peterborough City Council (PCC), having taken over from the Conservatives in November.

Cllr Mohammed Farooq (Peterborough First, Hargate and Hempsted) replaced Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald (Conservatives, West) as leader after a vote of no confidence in his leadership and administration.

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If the party of 10 councillors has enough seats after voting on 2nd May, it’s possible it’ll remain in charge through a coalition or power sharing arrangement with Labour.

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“I wouldn’t be going in a coalition with the Greens and the Lib Dems and Peterborough First,” Cllr Jones said. “It would have to be something like Peterborough First.”

He added that his party has “as good a relationship as is necessary” with the group.

Asked if he’d rule out such an arrangement with just the Liberal Democrats or just the Greens, he said “you’re almost getting into science fiction with that” as he believes they’re unlikely to win enough seats for it to be viable.

The Lib Dems have eight and are defending one, while the Greens have two which aren’t up for election this year.

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Peterborough First is, though, defending four seats: those of its leader Cllr Chris Harper (Stanground South), Cllr Farooq’s son Cllr Saqib Farooq (Glinton and Castor), long-standing councillor Cllr John Fox (Werrington) and Cllr Gavin Elsey (Wittering). It's also only fielding four more candidates across the city's 22 wards.

When Cllr Farooq took over the council, he promised “fresh energy, momentum and perspective” and pledged to deliver “growth and prosperity”, but also stressed that getting on with delivering ordinary council functions was a key priority.

PCC was led by the Conservative group for more than two decades when Cllr Farooq – himself one time chair of the North West Cambridgeshire Conservative Association – took over the council alongside other ex-Conservatives.

'Need to steady the ship'

So is there ambition for a new approach and new ideas in the future?

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Cllr Jones says there’s “huge ambition” but that “I think we’ve all recognised that what we need to do is steady the ship”.

“As we come blinking into the new dawn, then maybe we can start to look at something a bit more ambitious,” he said.

“But should it be solar panels, hotels, vanity projects? We haven’t got any money and I don’t think any of the parties other than the Conservatives have any appetite for vanity projects.”

The Conservatives say the council is in a “positive financial position overall” and that the group was “working hard” to reduce its debt when Cllr Farooq took over.

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It signed off on a review of the council’s assets to try to do this which has continued under Peterborough First.

"We recognise that we are councillors whose 'day job' is getting the roads fixed and the bins emptied and our arts and culture offer to a place it can be proud of," Cllr Jones said.

"We care passionately, locally and nationally about the environment and the legacy we will leave for our children but we know the limits of our influence."

Cllr Jones has stressed that Labour will look at all different possibilities after the elections and that if it wants to enter a coalition it will have to win approval from the national party.

But he has ruled out a multi-party coalition.

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“What we won’t be doing, and I’m as certain as I can be, is a three-way coalition,” he said.

“There hasn’t been in the past and I can’t see one in the future. I couldn’t lead a three-way coalition; I don’t think that would be in anybody’s best interests.”

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