Opinion: ‘Not sustainable to keep low council tax rates in Peterborough’
Wayne Fitzgerald, city council leader and Conservative group leader on Peterborough City Council writes...
In the summer we had a visit from the Local Government Association and a team of councillors and officers from other councils to carry out a peer review.
It wasn’t a formal inspection, but a chance for us to get feedback from local government colleagues on what we are doing well, what could be done differently and ideas for the future.
Last week the report was published and I am pleased to say that it highlighted the council’s success in dealing with the pandemic and found that it has worked tirelessly, delivering an ‘exemplary’ response.
It also said we can build on this success to help the city recover successfully from Covid, if we can unite people and politicians towards achieving lasting financial sustainability. It also commended the council for its openness and transparency around its challenging budget issues.
We have a known budget gap of £27.6million next year and we are working on ideas as to how we make those savings.
But we also need a plan for how we achieve financial sustainability in the longer term, which means being able to provide the services that our residents need with the budget that we have available each year. We need to get to this point quickly as we cannot continue to make savings year after year in the way we have been for the past decade.
Last Friday we published our phase one proposals which, if passed by Full Council in December, will achieve circa £10million pounds worth of the savings we need to make. You can read the proposals in full on our website and have your say.
In January we will publish our second phase to close the budget gap altogether, which will include our plans for council tax which will need to increase to meet the financial challenges we have.
With government finances still unclear, we cannot give a commitment as to how much council tax this will be, but people should expect it to increase so that we can continue to provide the services they need and work to make the city even better.
Peterborough residents have benefitted from lower council tax than elsewhere for a long time which has helped so many in the city, but it is no longer sustainable to keep our rates as low as they have been.
In Peterborough, we have the ninth lowest average Band D council tax rates when compared to other unitary authorities and so we must move to a position where we are more equal to other councils.
To put it into context, the current Band D rate is £1,476 and if Peterborough was able to move to the average unitary council tax rate of £1,599 (a difference of £131.59 – 8.9%) this would generate an additional £7.2million per year. If we were to move to the higher rate charged by other unitary authorities it would generate an additional £25million!
We don’t ever want to ask residents to pay more council tax, but to meet people’s expectations on services, we all must be prepared to pay more.
It is clear from the Peer Challenge report that we are a council which can achieve what we set our mind to do. We have been highly successful in attracting external funding and worked tirelessly to support residents throughout the pandemic, but we know that in many cases their needs are now even greater than before. To continue to support them and our city long term we must now make the difficult decisions ahead.
Rates of Covid-19 have been increasing in Peterborough for many weeks now and they are currently higher than they have ever been. At the time of writing, they are 686 per 100,000 and our public health experts tell us that in the past two weeks there has been a 20-day doubling rate, which means that if they continue to grow at the rate they have been, we will be well over 1,000 cases per 100,000 by next month.
This increase is largely driven by transmission in the school aged population, and this is causing serious disruption in schools as well as putting vulnerable children and parents at risk. Rates are now also starting to rise in the parental age ranges as well as in the over 60s and we are once again seeing outbreaks in care homes. The health service is also being impacted by increased Covid admissions as well as staff needing to stay at home with their children who have caught it.
This is really concerning, especially when you consider that fewer people in Peterborough are double vaccinated compared to the national average.
We need everyone to do three simple things – say yes to the vaccine (both doses), test if you have symptoms and rapid test twice a week if you don’t, and follow the hands, face, space advice. If we can all do all of this, then rates of the virus will fall in the city. Most importantly, we will keep our essential public services running, our economy open and all of us free from restrictions and serious illness.
And finally, if you were shopping in the city centre on Sunday you might have seen a 12ft red heart in Cathedral Square. It’s part of Unlocking Peterborough, the free family festival of circus, music and art running until December featuring circus performances, strolling musicals, street theatre, work by local artists and a Christmas winter wonderland.
On Halloween weekend, visitors will witness other-worldly creatures in the city centre including the silent Las Muertas Stilt Walkers and Cali and Mari the Octopi.
For more events info, visit www.visitpeterborough.com