Peterborough City Council 'threatened with suspension' before vote

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Peterborough Town HallImage source, LDRS
Image caption,
Peterborough City Council budget plans were defeated until absent members were summoned to vote

A council was threatened with suspension after a budget meeting reached stalemate amid accusations of "blackmail".

Members of Conservative-run Peterborough City Council could not agree on its annual spending plans.

Two councillors were summoned from "family emergencies" to push through the budget and break the deadlock.

Retiring council leader John Holdich said: "In my 43 years' service I've never known anything quite like this."

All councils are required by law to set a budget or risk immediate suspension, known as a section 114 order.

The order was most recently invoked during the financial crisis at Northamptonshire County Council in 2018.

After Peterborough's budget was defeated on Wednesday in a first vote, party leaders were ushered to negotiate behind closed doors, leaving the chamber in stalemate, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Image source, Geograph/Dylan Moore
Image caption,
The budget was eventually voted through - but not until almost midnight

Conservative councillors David Seaton and Ray Bisby, who left the chamber due to "family emergencies", were called back to help push the budget through.

However, Lib Dem group leader Nick Sandford said he would change his vote, provided the council "removed the most damaging cuts" and sourced £1m "from council reserves" for the Citizens Advice Bureau and climate emergency policies.

Speaking afterwards, he said: "We were being threatened that if we didn't allow their budget through the chief executive officer would issue a section 114 notice stopping all but essential spending from tomorrow."

Conservative councillor Wayne Fitzgerald said: "What upsets me the most is that Councillor Sandford hijacked the meeting by trying to blackmail us into borrowing a million pounds of taxpayers' money from reserves in order for him to vote our budget through.

"Yes, we had to bring back two members who had left the chamber for urgent family-related issues, but we won in the end."

The council had a £40m budget deficit for 2020/21, with councillors voting through a first tranche of savings in January.

The latest proposals were to tackle the remaining £16m shortfall, including a hike in parking charges to save £300,000 a year.

The budget, set until 2023, was eventually passed at 23:30 GMT after a two-hour delay.

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