Enough... city needs a fair deal

John Holdich
John Holdich
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In last week’s column I said I believed Peterborough does not receive a fair funding deal from government and our residents are being short-changed writes Peterborough City Council leader cllr John Holdich.

It was, in effect, a proverbial drawing of the line in the sand. This is because we’ve reached the stage where we are no longer sufficiently funded to provide the services we need to deliver for residents.

I made a commitment to campaign to government for fairer funding and I have wasted no time in trying to get our voice heard.

I’ve contacted the chairman of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter, our MPs, Shailesh Vara and Fiona Onasanya and mayor of the new combined authority, James Palmer, to discuss how they can all help our fight. I’m also looking to speak to other unitary authorities who have campaigned for fairer funding, so that we can benefit from strength in numbers.

It’s still early days, but this is just the start of what I intend to be a long-running campaign to get our voice heard, and for this to be reflected in our funding from government.

It won’t be an easy task, a realisation I had this week when I learnt the Department for Communities and Local Government’s response to my call for additional funding was to say that our core spending power will increase between now and 2019/20.

That might be the case (although it does fall slightly next year), but we don’t believe that core spending power is a proper measure of whether we are funded adequately by the government. That’s because core spending power does not simply reflect the amount the government gives us in grants but includes a number of elements such as council tax income which is paid for by residents.

The fact is that between 2013/14 and 2019/20 our central grant from government will have fallen by 80 per cent.

Our funding does not take into account rises in population or the substantial increases in demand on our services. Demand that has seen a 200 per cent rise in the number of homeless families requiring temporary accommodation in just the past two years.

We are not the only council to be speaking out and the numbers are growing for fairer funding from government.

But the challenge for our 2018/19 budget still exists. We’re constantly striving to fill the gap in our budget that grows year on year by, for example, developing new ways of generating income and continuing to promote the city to businesses so that we can benefit from additional business rates income.

Attracting new businesses is one area we have real success in. Only this week supermarket giant Lidl announced it will be creating 500 jobs in the city by building their largest UK distribution centre here.

You may have heard that there will be a couple of demonstrations taking place in the city centre on Saturday.

The English Defence League will be staging a demonstration and the Peterborough Trades Union Council will hold a static counter-protest in a section of the Key Theatre car park.

Together with the police, our many community and faith groups, shops and businesses, we are now experienced at dealing with this type of event with similar protests managed effectively in 2010 and 2014.

We understand that some people may be concerned about what is due to take place, but the city has a strong community spirit and the best thing residents and visitors can do to support that unity and cohesion in the run up to, during, and after the protest, is to go about their business as usual.

Barbara and I were warmly welcomed at the Diwali Festival over the weekend. As normal we wore traditional dress for the occasion ready to be immersed in dance, music and hospitality. This year was no exception and I had the honour of not only attending this event, but also the traditional Eid dinner at the Bangladesh Welfare Association on Sunday. Without wishing to get too metaphorical, it’s communities and events such as these that really light up our city and cause it to shine brightly for everyone to see.