Furious Peterborough council leaders complain to government over ‘undemocratic’ budget vote

Furious opposition leaders at Peterborough City Council have called on a senior government minister to intervene after they were prevented from debating the authority’s budget.

Friday, 5th March 2021, 7:55 am
Updated Friday, 5th March 2021, 8:12 am

Cllrs Nick Sandford (Liberal Democrat), Shaz Nawaz (Labour) and Julie Howell (Green Party) want Secretary of State for housing, communities and local government Robert Jenrick to order a re-vote after claiming Wednesday’s Full Council meeting was “undemocratic”.

Their complaints centre on the decision to prevent any debate from taking part after an initial speech by Conservative Cllr David Seaton, cabinet member for finance.

With the Tories and opposition split evenly in the Council Chamber, the casting vote went to Mayor of Peterborough Cllr Gul Nawaz, a Conservative chairing the meeting, who agreed to curtail debate.

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Peterborough Town Hall
Peterborough Town Hall

Instead, councillors went straight to voting, including on amendments from Labour and the Greens.

An outraged Cllr Sandford said he had “never seen anything like that” in 25 years as a councillor.

In a letter to Mr Jenrick, the three group leaders say: “The cabinet member gave a 15 minute speech and then the mayor (also Conservative) ruled that there had been adequate debate and the council was asked to vote on moving onto next business.  

“This proposal was agreed on the casting vote of the mayor and a further vote was then held to approve the budget. 

“I hope you will share our concern that it is undemocratic and unacceptable to hold a budget debate where no actual debate is allowed. I hope you will agree that scrutiny and challenge is an important part of a council’s budget process and that councillors are there to speak out and represent the views of their constituents.   

“If you share our concerns we would be grateful if you could ask your officials to intervene and suggest to the council that the budget meeting be reconvened so as to allow the budget to be properly debated and scrutinised.”

The group leaders also highlighted the decision by the Government earlier this year to allow the council to borrow up to £20 million to balance its books in order to avoid making “catastrophic” cuts.

Peterborough was one of only four local authorities granted this exemption (known as a Capitalisation Direction) after making the case that its finances had been decimated due to Covid.

Before then the council was facing a deficit of £37.5 million.

Its budget proposals included raising council tax by five per cent (with three per cent ringfenced for adult social care),