Opinion: ‘All eyes on next phase of Peterborough council’s budget’

Nick Sandford, LibDem group leader on Peterborough City Council, writes...

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 26th February 2022, 12:15 pm
Cllr Nick Sandford, Lib Dem group leader.
Cllr Nick Sandford, Lib Dem group leader.

Wednesday, March 2 could be a big day for Peterborough City Council.

At a full council that evening, phase two of the council’s budget will be voted on together with the proposed increase in council tax.

As I have said before many times, the Conservatives have been running Peterborough City Council for over 20 years and they have been in government for over 10, so whoever is to be blamed for the financial mess that our council finds itself in, it has to be them.

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Like the other opposition parties on the council, the Liberal Democrats have since last autumn been part of a cross-party working group looking at budgetary issues.

We have looked at the cabinet’s budget proposals and have managed to get them to take out some of the more controversial items.

In the press our Conservative council leader has attacked opposition parties for not putting forward any alternative proposals.

Yet he and his colleagues then put out a leaflet across the city saying that our proposals would lead to sky-rocketing council tax.

But we have one of the lowest council tax rates in the country and every year the government caps how much we can increase it by...this year the cap is effectively at three per cent.

So, as often is the case, our council leader’s arguments are self contradictory and don’t add up.

But he is right in saying there are difficult choices to be made.

It’s the responsibility of the cabinet to make those choices and put forward budget proposals and it is then the role of opposition parties like ourselves to scrutinise those proposals and then all councillors get to vote on them. Ultimately the council must agree a budget but we don’t have to agree to any old budget that the Conservatives happen to put forward.

And it’s simply not true to say that the Lib Dems do not have alternative ideas: here is one big one.

The council says in its draft corporate strategy that getting the city to net zero carbon by 2030 is one of its key priorities. Getting there will require big changes to council spending priorities: not necessarily spending more but spending differently.

One example of this is parking charges.

The cabinet wants to freeze them: what the council could do instead is to increase them modestly by the rate of inflation and invest the money raised in better facilities for cycling: why not put back the temporary cycle lane on Crescent Bridge?

l And finally, news this week about the infamous Bretton oak tree.

The cabinet has agreed to commission a further independent report from a structural surveyor to try to find a way forward that protects the house in question without having to remove the tree.

Root barriers could be an obvious solution.

And please Peterborough City Council, make sure you publish the report, so that any decisions you do make are seen to be open, transparent and above board.