The biggest evening of the year at Peterborough City Council descended into an acrimonious debate with name-calling, rows over money and a number of accusations.
Ahead of voting on the cash-strapped council’s budget proposals councillors took it in turns to aim verbal blows at one another in heated exchanges.
Jokes about being the Devil and accusations of being a social media troll were just two of the remarks bandied about last night.
Matters came to a head towards the end of the four-and-a-half hour meeting when Labour member for Park ward Cllr Richard Ferris stood up and told the Council Chamber: “I would like a public apology from Cllr (David) Seaton who has just given me the middle finger in this chamber, and he was seen by two of his colleagues.
“I am absolutely appalled at this behaviour. It’s not the first time this man has abused me in the chamber.”
Cllr Seaton, Conservative member for Hampton Vale, responded: “Mr Mayor, I’ll be very happy to apologise if Cllr Ferris wants to apologise for shouting at me to start this.”
Mayor of Peterborough Cllr John Fox, who was chairing the meeting, said: “This is getting absolutely silly. Let’s get on with it.”
Earlier, council deputy leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald called Labour group leader Cllr Ed Murphy "Red Ed" and likened him to the Devil, a remark he insisted was a joke.
Continuing the Devil theme, Cllr Fitzgerald then promised he would give up £666 of his allowances if all other members agreed to do the same.
Later on in the meeting, Labour member for Park ward Shaz Nawaz said he would reduce his allowances by £10,000 if Cllr Fitzgerald did the same.
He added: “Let’s really see what you’re made of. You’re not going to do that because it hurts your pocket.”
Conservative councillors also called out Labour East ward member Cllr Matthew Mahabadi for allegedly saying on a newsletter he was against a six per cent council tax rise, before now supporting the measure.
In response, Cllr Mahabadi said: “I’ve seen plenty of Conservative leaflets full of nonsense.”
Heavy criticism was then aimed at the Labour group which had promised an alternative budget but ended up with a single page of amendments.
The amendments called for:
. Charging £35 for a second brown bin but reducing the cost of a first brown bin collection to £43.65
. Investing £40,000 to deliver/test verge parking measures
. Considering the results of a parking review in next year’s budget
. Reducing Special Responsibility Allowances for members by £37,875
. Reducing the council’s communications budget by £30,000
. Removing terrorism insurance which costs £39,000
. Finding an extra £200,000 from sharing services.
However, previous Labour measures which included extending a landlord licensing scheme, bringing waste collection ‘in-house’ so it is run by the council, and increasing on-street car parking prices by five per cent, were no longer there despite recently being released to the media.
Cllr Seaton said the changes to Labour’s plans showed a “total lack of respect” for councillors and residents in the city.
Conservative member for Park ward Cllr John Peach said: “I was a little bit confused about this amendment. I thought we were going to get quite a radical change in the opposition’s budget.”
Other Tory councillors also criticised the lack of detail.
But Cllr Nawaz, who had promised the alternative budget, said after only six months as a councillor it was too soon for him to produce it. However, he added: “The amendments are sensible overall and I would urge councillors to consider them sensibly.”
Cllr Fitzgerald also criticised the amendment, stating: “It’s a stupid idea to remove terrorism insurance.” The deputy leader also suggested that council officers had not properly signed off the proposals.
But Cllr Murphy, who had earlier made reference to a social media troll on the Conservative benches, responded: “He is bringing the officers into disrepute.”
He also accused the Conservative of “screwing poor, hard-working people,” adding later on: “It’s not a budget for the many. I hope on May 4 some of you will be gone.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Nick Sandford also had his say, stating that he wished Labour’s proposals had gone further.
He also criticised the “plain crazy” suggestions of the Conservative administration to ask Bretton Parish Council to take over the running of Bretton Water Park and to charge residents £25 to have their bins replaced if they are lost or stolen.
The water park will now be run by Vivacity, and the bin replacement charge was taken out the budget.
The debate had begun with Cllr Seaton telling members nearly 3,000 jobs had been created in Peterborough in the last year, with unemployment below the national average.
Faced with a £24 million deficit in 2018/19, he said councillors could “take confidence from our track record.”
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