Peterborough council opposition leader says authority has ‘mountain to climb’ over finances following ‘many shortcomings’ of administration

The leader of the Labour Party on Peterborough City Council has said the authority has ‘a mountain to climb’ to make its finances sustainable following ‘many shortcomings’ from the Conservative administration.

By Stephen Briggs
Tuesday, 9th November 2021, 4:57 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th November 2021, 8:47 am
Cllr Shaz Nawaz
Cllr Shaz Nawaz

Last week Government minister Kemi Badenoch MP wrote a letter to leader of the council, cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, saying she was ‘concerned’ the authority had ‘not yet fully grasped’ the scale of the financial problems it was facing. Two reports were also published looking at the financial position of the council.

After the reports were issued, cllr Fitzgerald said the council did have a grip on the situation - but there would be challenges ahead.

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Now cllr Shaz Nawaz, leader of the Labour Party on the council has said they will support the council to get through ‘the most difficult and worrying time’ the council has ever faces - but said the Conservative administration ‘needed to be held to account’ for the situation.

Cllr Nawaz said: “It is clear that we have a huge mountain to climb in order to bring the council to a sustainable and secure position. The report is clear on some on the many shortcomings of Conservative administration such as:

“‘failed to own issues in the past’

‘“corporate strategy does not provide sufficient clarity on priorities’

‘no single plan everyone is working on’”“There has been a lack of strategic direction and planning. The focus has always been on the next 12 months as opposed to a longer period. This is something the Conservative administration needs to address. We are in a mess for two reasons: funding cuts from central government and a lack of strong leadership and management from the Conservative administration. They’ve been in control for over 21 years and they need to be held to account for the situation we find ourselves I today.

“From a Labour Group perspective we find the situation extremely serious and concerning. We will do all we can to support the council so that we can get through what is probably the most difficult and worrying time this council has ever faced.

“We will do all we can to help but we will also challenge the administration for its shortcomings because they have failed to listen in the past. I hope they will change that stance because it’s clear they don’t know best – if they did then we wouldn’t be in the current dismal situation.”

The leader of the Liberal Democrats on the council, Cllr Nick Sandford, said cllr Fitzgerald should not be able to ‘wash his hands’ of the reports by saying he was the new leader of the council, and called for more to be done to tackle the climate crisis.

He said; “These two reports from Government, raise serious questions about the way Peterborough City Council has been run over the past twenty years. And Cllr Fitzgerald can’t be allowed to wash his hands by saying we have a “new administration.

“The Tories have been in power locally for the past 21 years and nationally for the past 11 years, so there is no-one else who can be blamed for the mess the Council finds itself in. No-one likes paying tax but decades of keeping council tax artificially low, combined with cuts in Government grant, have been big factors in our problems. And the Tory pet project of Brexit hasn’t helped either, leading to shortages of key staff in areas such as social care and refuse collection. These issues and problems will affect everyone in the city, so we need to have a public debate on them and Full Council is the ideal forum for that to happen.

“Going forward, Lib Dems will work constructively to help the Council find solutions, looking carefully at the Government’s recommendations. Government says we need to strengthen audit and scrutiny of cabinet decisions, to cut our spending on big capital projects and to look at the case for selling off some assets, possibly including the Town Hall and some farm land. But they also say we need to reassess our corporate strategy and make hard choices. At a time when the climate crisis is in everyone’s minds, I am astounded that there is virtually nothing in the Council’s revenue budget to enable climate change to be tackled and to enable adaptation to the climate change that we are already seeing in our City. Many such measures could be achieved by repurposing existing budgets and some would actually save us money going forward.”

Cllr Nicola Day of the Green Party said; “We are dismayed that the persistent cuts to Government grants to Peterborough City Council, now totalling £40m, have brought us to the current situation, meaning further cuts to public services and steep rises in council tax seem inevitable. A Green Government would ensure that Councils are adequately funded and that no one is left behind. Peterborough Green Party councillors are open to working with the Conservative administration to help balance the budget, even though we in no way caused these problems, but we do not agree with many of the suggestions that have been put forward (such as proposing residents should pay for missing or damaged bins).””