Opinion: ‘Moving towards a sounder budget’

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

Sunday, 21st November 2021, 8:00 am
Peterborough City Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald with Cabinet member for finance Cllr Andy Coles with the council's Budget proposals. EMN-211015-134641009

The recent COP26 global conference has thrust climate change into the spotlight, highlighting the vital importance of protecting our planet.

Here in Peterborough, we’re already taking urgent action.

The council’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2030 is progressing well and this week ambitious plans to increase the number of trees locally have moved forward.

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Our cabinet has recently agreed that Peterborough should revise its target of tree coverage on council-owned land from 22% to 25% by 2035. This would require a ten to twenty-fold increase in tree planting over the next 14 years, with up to 150,000 trees being planted.

Like many people, I love trees, not just because they look nice but for the many benefits they bring to the world like improving biodiversity. Whilst these targets are ambitious, they are deliverable and will make a positive difference for communities, nature and our climate.

The recommendation, which will now be voted on by full council in December, is subject to securing external funding, as planting and maintenance would cost an estimated £5 million to £15 million.

The council already maintains over 50,000 trees and, as you can imagine, managing that stock and expanding it is a huge challenge. We are helped by our excellent Trees and Woodland Strategy which is regularly praised as one of the best in the country.

As well as looking to plant more trees, we also want to develop cleaner and greener waste disposal services, helping to boost recycling rates.

I recently held a recycling workshop inviting all councillors to come and talk informally about their ideas and improvement opportunities. The first session took place last week and went really well. There was lots of discussion around communications and increasing engagement with residents to help you understand what can be recycled.

We’re already doing a lot of positive work, such as our campaign to increase food waste bin usage, which has increased our collection tonnages by 31 per cent in just seven months.

I want any future workshops to help generate even more ideas and drive them forward and I will keep you updated.

I was interviewed by the BBC this week about the council’s budget challenges and the huge pressure we are under to maintain and provide good services for our growing population.

The interview was due to be broadcast on Sunday (Nov 21) on the Politics Show (East), please look out for it or watch it back if you can.

In it, I speak about how our overall aim is to generate more income in order to provide the services that people expect as we cannot continue to make huge reductions through selling off assets every year.

We are currently the ninth lowest unitary Council Tax authority, but we will have to consider future increases, if allowed to do so. For example, an increase that moves us towards the average Band D rate, would generate £7.2 million a year.

Looking ahead to the next financial year, we have recently published our first phase of budget proposals which plan to save around £10 million.

I hope this will get unanimous cross-party support at the next full council meeting on December 8. The opposition parties are fully aware of the council’s financial challenges and should help us to overcome them.

I would urge everyone to read these proposals and comment on them by visiting www.peterborough.gov.uk

Our second phase of proposals is due to be published and consulted on in January. These will aim to save circa £17m and close the gap in our budget for 2022/23.

There are difficult decisions ahead, but I hope you will understand the reasons for these.

The actions we will need to take are an investment for all our futures.

On a positive note, there’s a real buzz in the city this week – my diary is packed and everywhere I look people are getting ready for Christmas.

On Friday I headied to Cathedral Square for our Christmas lights switch-on!

Kev Lawrence and the team at PCRFM hosted the event on behalf of the council, with special thanks to City Fibre, Princebuild and Vodafone for their support.

The main attraction was the 40-foot spruce Christmas tree, colourfully lit up for all to admire.

I couldn’t fail to notice the comments on social media when the tree first arrived here, with many quick to condemn it.

If I had been cooped up in a lorry and kept in storage for the past week I’m not sure I would look much better!

However, since its arrival, Santa’s little helpers have been busy making final tweaks, removing lower branches, separating the branches and dressing it with lights and decorations, so it looks the best it can for the switch-on.

And finally, just a reminder about the Embankment Masterplan public exhibition.

It will online on Monday, from 6.30-7.30pm.

This will be an exciting chance to see some of the options that have been suggested so far for the site and a further opportunity to give your feedback.

To access Monday’s webinar visit https://peterboroughembankment.co.uk/