Opinion: ‘Peterborough City Council should be open to scrutiny’

Nick Sandford, Lib Dem Group leader, Peterborough City Council, writes...

Sunday, 7th November 2021, 6:15 pm
The image has been used for illustrative purposes

A few weeks ago we saw Peterborough City Council cabinet’s proposals for the first phase of the council budget.

Yet again we are given warnings of the perilous state of the city council finances.

Conservative council leader, Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, in his regular weekly PT column, said that the council’s problems are due to our level of Council Tax being much lower than that of most other unitary authorities.

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This is partly true, as government tends to allow councils to increase their Council Tax by only a fixed percentage each year (this year it is 3%) and 3% of a small amount delivers much less in revenue than 3% of a much larger amount.

So the net effect over time is for the councils with the highest Council Tax to gain more each year. What Wayne forgot to mention was that Conservatives have been running Peterborough City Council for over 20 years and most years during that period they have had a deliberate policy of keeping Council Tax as low as possible.

And for the last 10 years, the Conservatives have been in charge nationally too... severely restricting funding for councils whilst at the same time putting more responsibilities and costs onto local government.

No-one likes paying tax but, if our low Council Tax rate and underfunding of councils are problems, then there is only one party that can be blamed for them.

So concerned was government about the way Peterborough City Council is being run, this summer they sent in inspectors to analyse both the finances and the governance of the council. We are told government has received a report from their inspectors but, despite asking many times, city councillors have yet to see it.

I hope it might comment on the fact that earlier this year, opposition councillors were prevented from having any debate on the council budget, an outrage that led opposition group leaders to make a formal complaint to Mr Jenrick, the then secretary of state for local government. We have been shown a separate report from a “peer review” carried out by leaders of other councils which says, amongst a series of recommendations, that Peterborough City Council should involve all councillors more in budget making and allow opposition councillors to chair some scrutiny committees.

I hope the council leadership will respond positively to these recommendations.

So what of the proposed phase one budget savings? Many of them are quite non-controversial and I suspect we will see some much more severe cuts in phase two of the budget process early next year. But some are a bit bizarre. The council put out a press release saying three parks have been awarded “Green Flag” status and then the next day announced that from next year no further “Green Flag” applications will be made due to budget cuts.

The council is to stop putting spring and summer flowering plants into parks and instead will grass over the flower beds: so why not put in perennial plants instead, with a mix that flower at different times of the year? Or, if that’s not possible, why not sow some wild flower seeds instead?

This week is the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow.

I hope it is a success for all our sakes.

Climate change is a vital issue that is increasingly affecting the lives of everyone in Peterborough and across the planet. We need to cut carbon emissions rapidly but also adapt to the climate change that is already happening. Our council says they want to get to net zero carbon by 2030, 20 years ahead of the government’s target.

It’s a great objective; but the time for making declarations is over: it’s time to act!