Opinion: ‘Cuts will be necessary, regrettably’

Wayne Fitzgerald, city council leader and Conservative group leader on Peterborough City Council writes...

Sunday, 19th December 2021, 1:30 pm
The city council's finances face a huge challenge.

I have written many times in this column about the huge financial pressures the council is under and the need for us to take strong and decisive action in our quest for financial stability.

It’s our number one priority and will be for some time to come and we will need to make some difficult decisions about the services we can continue and those we might need to stop providing, temporarily in some cases.

No politician ever wants to be in this position and that is why we have done everything in our power to avoid cuts to services and closures in recent years. But we cannot continue in that way; there needs to be drastic change.

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At a special meeting of the council on Thursday night, members were asked to approve a number of recommendations which are key components to us being able to reach a more stable financial footing, while still delivering quality vital services for residents.

The first of these is an Improvement Plan, which was one of several actions we have swiftly progressed following a review of the council’s governance and finances by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and the Charted Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).

The plan sets out the steps we will take to achieve financial stability, which includes taking bold decisions to turn off spending in areas that are no longer core, or the council can’t afford, and urgently reviewing our key services, including contracts and assets, to see how we can save money by doing things differently.

Fundamentally, we need to stop doing what is no longer vital and doesn’t add value, because we cannot afford it.

At the same meeting, members were also asked to appoint an Independent Improvement and Assurance Panel which will provide external advice, challenge and expertise in driving forward the development and delivery of the plan.

The panel will be a key element of our Improvement Plan, holding the council to account and reassuring Government that we are progressing at pace. The experience and skills that the membership of this panel will provide will be crucial.

Members were also asked to agree to us starting the process to appoint an independent chair and two independent members to the Audit Committee to improve its ability to effectively scrutinise and challenge the council’s financial decisions, governance and procedures.

The size and scale of the challenge ahead of us is significant and will test us all, but working constructively with the Government, our partners, and the people of Peterborough, we are confident, that with the actions set out in this Improvement Plan, we will successfully deliver the fundamental changes needed for the council.

Like most people, I’m looking forward to spending Christmas with loved ones, but to help guarantee this can happen I’m urging everyone to support our new ‘Sleigh Covid’ campaign.

The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly, so we have launched the initiative to help ensure people can enjoy a traditional family Christmas and prevent essential services like the NHS from becoming overwhelmed.

The campaign focuses on three simple steps that everyone can follow to stay safe: get the Covid vaccine or booster jab when offered, take a rapid test before going out to any event or busy indoor venue and protect others by self-isolating if you get a positive PCR test.

Otherwise, follow the hands, face, space and good ventilation guidelines.

The vital importance of getting vaccinated and having booster jabs has been emphasised by the prime minister this week and I can only echo his plea.

To recap, anyone over the age of 18 who had the second vaccination at least three months ago can now book a booster jab via the national booking system or by calling 119.

Walk-in appointments for boosters are not currently being offered locally, but the ‘evergreen’ offer for people to walk-in for their first or second jab or their third primary dose (with a letter from their GP) is still live at the Queensgate Shopping Centre in Peterborough.

We are aware that many people are currently trying to book booster jabs online and are experiencing delays. I can only ask you to please be patient and keep trying.

There are plenty of appointments available locally and health services are actively working to make sure boosters are available to all.

You can book a booster via www.nhs.uk/covidvaccine or by calling 119.

Visit www.thevaccinators.co.uk for details on booking a first or second Covid vaccine and where to find walk-in appointments.

Don’t forget that there is festive fun for all the family on offer in the city centre this weekend.

Saturday sees the launch of a new micro-brewery and distillery market down Bridge Street featuring a mixture of gin and craft beers for people to taste and purchase.

And Sunday sees the return of the Peterborough Vegan Market, also in Bridge Street, with up to 35 stalls including a huge variety of vegan street food, artisan bakes, craft cheeses, handmade cosmetics, ethical clothing and jewellery, arts and crafts and charity stalls.

As always, if you are going along please follow the guidelines and stay safe.