Opinion: ‘It’s not what I call an open door’

I was encouraged when the newly elected Conservative leader, Wayne Fitzgerald, said, with a flourish, that his door was always open. He also said we should work more collaboratively, writes Labour group leader Shaz Nawaz.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 8th July 2022, 10:14 am
Updated Friday, 8th July 2022, 10:14 am
Sand Martin House
Sand Martin House

I was delighted when his cabinet member for finance, Andy Coles, admitted that they had made mistakes over the past 22 years. Wayne was quick to point out that ’we are all in this together’ and should therefore pitch in to resolve the deep financial crisis the city was, and remains in.

Nothing should be off the table, surely. Open minds. Open hearts. Full and frank discussions in the Financial Sustainability Working Group, made up, somewhat reluctantly I might add, of members of every political hue to help the administration steer the good ship Peterborough into calmer waters financially. Why reluctantly? Over many years, opposition members were routinely ignored, and the only way was the Conservative way.

Despite the Conservatives’ failure to remove a former councillor as the Chair of the Planning committee at Full Council (play back the video and watch the leader’s body language as the vote was lost. I will say no more) and losing the vote at a later full council which enabled opposition members to chair all the committees, this was the dawning of a new age of collaborative working. Wasn’t it?

Perhaps. Or at least until the council’s constitution and ethics committee suggested that a full review take place of how decisions are made. Please understand this is not a decision, simply a reassessment. Peterborough has a cabinet system of governance like Westminster. The Labour Group selects a shadow cabinet to review the decisions the administration takes. Some councils use a structure where decisions are made by a committee with the major parties having the greater number of votes. Often, there is a hybrid system where decisions are taken by a committee but need to go to a cabinet for approval.

The constitution and ethics committee simply suggested reviewing the current system to see whether it still is fit for purpose. Nothing more. Nothing less. The result? Incredulity as the Conservative members refused to discuss it, the leader simply saying ‘no’ and walking out of the meeting. Really? Are we really all in this together? Are we really working collaboratively or are we simply being played for fools and the leader of Peterborough City Council is taking a leaf out of his party leader’s book and saying one thing whilst doing another?

Peterborough is suffering through a financial crisis. Every opposition member is aware of their duty to the city, and we will be regularly meeting this year to scrutinise the city’s financial situation. But we must put all the cards on the table. Everything is up for review, discussion, and debate. To simply say ‘no’ to such a review smacks of pique not political insight.

As politicians, we must expect rigorous analysis of what we do and what we say. There are times when things go in our favour. There are times when they don’t. But that is democracy, and we are lost, locally and nationally, if we simply ignore something we do not like and walk away, arms folded.

This is not the new beginning I or my colleagues expected, Wayne. This smacks of ‘old wine in new bottles.’ Has anything really changed or are we seeing the Conservatives who, nationally and locally, have run the city into the ground, reverting to type? Will they continue to run the city as they always did? We are the fastest growing city in the fastest growing region of the country, yet we are still run like a 19 th century market town. Our civic leaders lack vision and ambition. It is time for a change. The storm clouds are starting to gather over this spent, unambitious, and lacklustre

administration and its leader. The tempest will break, and perhaps wash them away.