What price lo­cal democ­racy?

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - PAULSTAINTON - The man be­hind the mic BBC Ra­dio Cam­bridgeshire’s Paul Stain­ton writes for the Peter­bor­ough Tele­graph

We have al­ready lost the Dodo and the lesser spot­ted Jacko (although it didn’t take the lat­ter long to se­cure his Brexit bonus), now it ap­pears the city is also on the en­dan­gered species list, along­side the white rhino and Princess Diana’s cas­sette player.

Our new ‘Metro Mayor’ for Cam­bridgeshire and Peter­bor­ough, James Palmer, has called for an in­de­pen­dent re­view of the way we are gov­erned in this county, whilst at the same time, de­fend­ing his de­ci­sion to take on sev­en­teen staff at the new Com­bined Author­ity, with salaries to­talling just short of £1m a year.

It’s a lot of wonga to spend for a man who claimed he was go­ing to run a lean, mean spend­ing ma­chine and the an­nounce­ment was heav­ily crit­i­cised by some, for du­pli­cat­ing roles that al­ready ex­ist at other au­thor­i­ties, although he hasn’t ad­ver­tised for any se­cu­rity guards yet.

Mayor Palmer claimed on the ‘Big Con­ver­sa­tion,’ on BBC Ra­dio Cam­bridgeshire, that “We are the most over-gov­erned part of the coun­try and it’s clear that we need to sort it out.”

For­mer Peter­bor­ough City Coun­cil leader, sense talker and all round speaker of his mind, Char­lie Swift, agreed, ar­gu­ing that coun­cil­lors at the Town Hall “Run noth­ing th­ese days and are a waste of space.”

So, per­haps we should ditch our coun­cil­lors, sell off the Town Hall and save a fortune in sarnie bills.

But can we put our trust in this one man (and his sev­en­teen staff ) to lead us into the promised land, or would that be the very an­tithe­sis of democ­racy and what would our poor, out of work, coun­cil­lors do then?

Coun­cil­lor Peach is too old to work down the mine and Bella Salt­marsh is far too young to re­tire (I dare not risk up­set­ting Bella!). I sup­pose Dar­ren Fower’s Flow­ers has a cer­tain ring to it, but I am not sure of his hor­ti­cul­tural ex­per­tise, whilst the ever youth­ful, Steve Allen, could al­ways chuck a bit of mo­bile disco work Wayne Fitzger­ald’s way. The big is­sues here are democ­racy and ac­count­abil­ity and whether the Com­bined Author­ity and its Mayor would work in the best in­ter­ests of Peter­bor­ough. He may have a bil­lion pounds burn­ing a hole in pocket but once you have built a rail­way sta­tion in Wis­bech, ex­tended the M11 and built thou­sands of af­ford­able homes, there might not be a lot left for a proper Univer­sity in Peter­bor­ough.

Whether you think the folks in the Town Hall are do­ing a good job or a bad job, at least they are part of your com­mu­nity and avail­able to moan at or con­grat­u­late, and for some it’s a lit­tle bit rich of James Palmer to overnight be­come yet an­other layer of lo­cal gov­ern­ment - and then claim that there are too many lay­ers of lo­cal gov­ern­ment!

But, maybe the man has a point; maybe we don’t need all th­ese coun­cil­lors and dif­fer­ent lay­ers of so-called democ­racy; maybe we could save a fortune by dis­till­ing it all down into a sin­gle layer of gov­er­nance; maybe that was the plan all along. Less Coun­cil­lors, di­rec­tors, of­fi­cers, man­agers and as­sis­tants and more money left in the pot to spend on the things that mat­ter.

Who knows, our coun­cil tax might even go down!

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