I outlined in the column last month how Peterborough City Council finds itself in severe financial difficulties.
Since then the council has received two scathing reports from Government looking in detail at its finances and governance arrangements.
Audit and scrutiny of budgets are criticised and the council is told to start addressing the problems soon or face the prospect of Government intervening, as happened a year or so ago in Northamptonshire.
The council has been told to stop all capital spending except where it is legally required and to draw up a list of property and other assets that it can sell off help balance the budget and rebuild reserves.
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As the second largest opposition group on the council, the Liberal Democrats have two duties in these circumstances.
We are councillors and citizens of Peterborough and we need to do all that we can to help the council get out of the financial mess that it is in.
But we must also hold the Conservative administration to account for their failure of leadership in allowing the situation to get so bad. If we are to put things right, we need to get to the bottom of what went wrong and the Conservatives have been in charge at the town hall for over 20 years, so they must accept some responsibility for what has happened, with some blame also attaching to the Government (also Conservative) which has cut grants to councils repeatedly over many years.
One clear recommendation of Government is that Peterborough City Council needs to be clearer on what its strategic priorities are and to have a budget which is more focussed on achieving them. One of the council’s strategic priorities is tackling climate change and, more specifically, getting the city to net zero carbon by 2030.
Given that we are not going to get our carbon emissions down to zero by then, we are going to need to do a lot to remove carbon from the atmosphere and trees are very good at fulfilling that role.
Our council has had very unambitious targets for tree planting up to now, so it was really great to see the cabinet last week agree to a big increase in tree planting with an ambitious aim of getting tree canopy cover on council land up from 20 to 25 per cent by 2035.
It is hoped to obtain grant aid to help deliver that ambition but the council is also going to be asking councillors and local residents to nominate areas of land that they think would be suitable for tree and woodland planting.
Sometimes I criticise the council for its failings but this time it’s great to see them getting something right. Trees are not just carbon absorbing machines: they also give us oxygen to breathe, clear the air of pollutants, provide shade in the summer and absorb rainwater to help prevent flooding.
Peterborough Environment City Trust (PECT) is running tree planting events across the city this winter, starting with one at John Clare recreation ground in Paston this Saturday and Sunday: please refer to the PECT Facebook page or website www.pect.org.uk/events for more information.