Opinion: ‘Fighting covid and balancing books’

Peterborough City Council leader John Holdich gives his view on the council and news and issues affecting you...

Saturday, 13th March 2021, 5:00 am
Peterborough City Council Leader John Holdich and Corporate Director for Resources Peter Carpenter were at the forefront of drawing up the city council's budget plans.

We’ve been fighting hard for our city in the battle against Covid-19 for a year now - it was this time last year that Coronavirus became a recognised name and the first lockdown was looming.

In that time, we’ve supported hundreds of people who have been most affected by the pandemic through our support hub – people who could not access food or medicine - we’ve handed out grants totalling £35.5million to around 2,800 local businesses, some of which could have collapsed without support, thus protecting jobs, and we’ve battled hard with everyone in the city to keep rates as low as possible by reducing the chains of transmission.

Although Covid-19 rates in Peterborough are now coming down, they remain higher than both the England and regional average and so we continue to fight to ensure that our city emerges from lockdown in the best possible place.

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At the same time as managing the response to the pandemic, we’ve been fighting to find a way to deliver the services that our residents need in 2021/22 – including the many services we have provided in addition in the past year.

After spending much of the past decade making our services as efficient as possible and maximising the income that we generate, we knew that we had left no stone unturned in our efforts to find the savings that we needed.

As a result, we’ve worked hard to ensure the Government understood our unique and challenging situation which resulted in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government accepting our request for exceptional financial support.

As part of this, our efforts to close the budget gap were scrutinised by three independent sources which showed that we had very cost-effective services in Peterborough. It was concluded that without government help those services would have been decimated.

It wasn’t an intervention as has happened in other councils where the Government has felt they don’t have a firm grip of their financial situation. In our case, it has been accepted that we have done what we can - but the growth of the city and the needs of our population have outstripped the amount of money currently available to us.

I am pleased to say that the budget was signed off at last week’s Full Council meeting and we can now turn our focus to fairer funding for the years that follow.

Some opposition members have chosen to criticise the way the budget item unfolded at the meeting and have spoken publicly about this, including to this newspaper, so I would like to set the record straight.

The Conservative Group moved quickly to the vote to allow more time for other important items on the agenda to be discussed, knowing there had been ample opportunities to discuss the proposed budget in the weeks prior.

The leaders of the Liberal Democrats and Labour group were invited, more than once, to join me in working to produce a sustainable budget, an offer which was declined. Once the proposals were published, there was a combined scrutiny committee meeting where members met to scrutinise the budget in full ahead of the cabinet meeting. When the cabinet meeting was held, members were able to attend, but not one opposition member did.

Two days before the Full Council meeting, I received proposed amendments from opposition groups.

Despite the short timescale and in the interests of putting Peterborough first, we included all the amendments and presented them to council.

So, as you can see, there were numerous opportunities for opposition members to scrutinise the budget and we accommodated all amendments that we were asked to. It was these two facts that led us to believe there was no need for extended debate on the budget.

We will now continue fighting for our city, not just to get us through the pandemic, but to ensure that we can find a longer-term solution to the annual budget setting challenge that we and so many councils face.

The Government has made a commitment to identify a fairer way to award funding for councils and we look forward to working closely with them on this.

You may have seen the adverts on TV, radio or Facebook about Census 2021 and be wondering what it’s all about.

The Census is a unique national survey carried out by the government’s Office for National Statistics that happens every 10 years to document all the people and households in England and Wales.

It’s vitally important that we all fill in our Census questionnaires, as the information you share is used to plan and fund vital local services, such as schools, healthcare and transport. So please put this on your to do list.

Although Census day is Sunday 21 March, if you have already received your questionnaire or a letter with instructions on how to take part online then you can fill it in now.You can find out more about how to access support at https://www.peterborough.gov.uk/council/about-peterborough/census-2021

We recently launched the ‘Laptops for Children’ campaign aimed at getting computers and internet access to young people that need it most.

Over £560,000 has been raised in just one month, enabling the first batch of laptops and 4G Routers to be purchased and rolled out to schools. Any businesses that are interested in supporting the campaign, either financially or by providing laptops, can visit www.peterborough.gov.uk for details.