I happily accepted an invitation to join a “participating audience” tonight and gave away my ticket for the James Galway concert in Ely Cathedral.
I turned up at the Copeland Community Centre to listen to Stewart Jackson MP (Conservative) challenge the solar voltaic project planned for Newborough and which has been vocally and enthusiastically led by Cllr Marco Cereste (Conservative), Leader of Peterborough City Council (Conservative) who believes it presents the answer to what he (Conservative) describes as “the black hole” created by the ConDem (but mainly Conservative) government of which Stewart Jackson MP (Conservative) is an elected representative. They were both on the panel alongside Chris Foulds and Bob Lawrence.
The organiser was the BBC and the Chair was Paul Stainton of Cambridgeshire’s Bigger Breakfast.
Cllr Cereste (Conservative) was invited to set out his stall. He is very keen that Peterborough City Council (Conservative) become a power generator and sell power to “our residents”. He thinks this would “give them some stability” and “we can control those prices”. He is fairly convinced that there isn’t much choice because otherwise “what are we going to do?” and it is the “duty of each councillor and council officer to get the best return..” He spent all of ten seconds on “£21M” and “£175M”. The first is “solar” and the other is the “entire project”.
Richard Olive tried to explain that the projected figures didn’t add up. He wasn’t allowed to finish. It has to be said that Richard Olive is a firm believer in the interrupt and trample theory of communication. There is one problem with his approach though: although the assertion gets expressed and a familiar voice goes on air absolutely nothing then happens to what is said. In the lordly procession of chairman to the person next in his narrative it is a sort of burp. The possibility that he might be right or that it might be worth looking at the figures isn’t allowed to even hang suspended in space for a moment. The panel (50% Conservative) escapes scrutiny with the assistance of the BBC.
Paul Stainton stands up, wandering about, while the “participating audience” sits down. Perhaps Richard Olive should have stood up and claimed a bit of space on a level with the Chair? It is after all difficult to trample from a sitting position.
As a veteran of the incinerator (anti) campaign and an observer of the hospital PFI fiasco it astounds me that anyone on Peterborough City Council can still get away with that phrase “commercial confidentiality”. If the council is the company (or effectively) where is the competition, where is the tender, where is the process? What could possibly be confidential?
Nobody asked. Something has to be very seriously wrong: when nobody
- understands the process
- bothers to explain it
- knows what it is or
- why it is there
Why does nobody ever challenge this preposterous pile of garbage? If someone fly-tipped vomit soaked nappies all over Cllr Nick Sandford (Liberal Democrat), would he actually mind? I think he would just say something Sandfordianly phlegmatic, smile and drift on.
How many more millions of pounds does the city council have to lose before Jo Public barges in? We know another massive financial blunder (or worse) is underway but everyone is determined to leave the curtain hanging up there. We need a little boy.
Why don’t other people feel their intelligence has been insulted by Cllr Cereste (Conservative) in particular? And patronised to the point of jaw on floor? “I do know that what’s on the table will secure him and his family for a long time to come.” Cllr Cereste (Conservative) knows much better than the sleepless farmer does what is best for the sleepless farmer.
How does this phenomenon get away with it? He hasn’t always been like that. Has he? Why isn’t he pursued by dung laden tractors?
Cllr Cereste (Conservative) spent another unchallenged (by Stewart Jackson MP Conservative) moment in the sun (lets be honest it is a Conservative sun, isn’t it) talking about £7M income per year and how that was a “very positive thing to do”.
Nobody pointed out that the residents of Peterborough might be being held to ransom over this. Or that there might be a conflict of interest for the council, (Conservative) or for Cllr Cereste (Conservative) or that all this lovely millions of money and tempting energy security from a terrifying nightmare of high prices (Conservatives role in creating said nightmare includes closing UK mines, privatising energy companies and selling the national grid) might be being laid out before us suckers “our residents” (Conservative) in the run up to an election.
Stewart Jackson MP (Conservative) then proceeded to list the procedural gaffes committed by the Peterborough City Council (Conservative).
- lack of transparency (no figures available to the residents of Peterborough and – because I couldn’t ask my second question the audience was able to rest secure in the assumption – to Stewart Jackson MP (Conservative) himself.
- treatment of farmers (I’ll expand for him here: the council’s first communication to 18 farmers was to warn them that they would be evicted if the plan went ahead)
- risk of a change in the subsidy regime: no safety plan if the government (Conservative with a little bit of Dem) changes the regime governing ROCs (again no discussion: no explanation)
- no contingency fund if the sums are wrong
- conflict with government (Conservative with a little bit of Dem) policy on renewables (this was not explained at all)
- has no plan B (if I may expand any decent proposal presents alternatives, preferably a well thought out range of options)
- didn’t even know which brownfield sites it owned
Bob Lawrence was brilliant: a great relief talking about actual food production and the role of a tenant farm although Farming Today (which I often listen to) recently did a bit on how councils across the country are flogging them off or developing them and how much damage this could do to farming, small farms and new entrants to farming.
What sadly didn’t get said at this point is that some councils are refusing to do this. I think Peterborough should be enthusiastically refusing to reduce its tenanted farm land holdings.
Once Paul Stainton said they were starting to wind up and I still hadn’t succeeding in asking any of my questions I decided that since I wasn’t actually required as a speaking participant, as I had expected, I wasn’t going to be part of any awful preorganised tedious windbag wind up. So I left and expressed my feelings as clearly as I possibly could (being at that point absolutely livid) to David Murray, radio editor.
So what questions would I have asked? I had two: the first was in response to Cllr Marco Cereste (Conservative). I wanted to ask him (and I’ll be honest I really wanted to ask this in front of a rolling TV camera):
- Can you explain why you are not sure exactly how much income the solar voltaic array on the Freemans building is bringing in and why should anyone trust your figures if you are in the slightest bit uncertain on this point?
And the other one was to Stewart Jackson. I wanted to ask him:
- Whether or not public authorities (including Peterborough City Council) don’t have to disclose to our elected representative in parliament whatever information is requested of them and to confirm that he does actually have all the figures because he has asked the city council for them and they have been obliged to disclose them.
Please go to @PaulStainton or https://twitter.com/PaulStainton for more and use hashtag #solardebate
Please comment here if you don’t tweet or want more space