Opinion: ‘Peterborough’s cultural offering will be improved’

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

Sunday, 12th December 2021, 1:43 pm
Council tax bill

As we move towards the end of 2021,

I find my thoughts turning towards the year ahead and what the future will bring.

Regular readers will know how excited I am about Peterborough’s development over the next few years, with the new university, Fletton Quays and Northminster among several big projects.

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It’s vitally important that we have the right infrastructure to go alongside this growth so that Peterborough remains a place that people want to live in, work in and visit.

The city’s cultural offering is an area we are actively looking to improve and a new strategy aimed at doing just that was set to get the go-ahead at last night’s full council meeting.

The Peterborough Cultural Strategy will look to boost our cultural offer and see a new culture-focussed group called the Peterborough Cultural Alliance (PCA) created with the remit of developing arts and heritage across the city up until 2030.

Key aims include preparing a City of Culture bid in 2029, celebrating Peterborough’s heritage and work to become net carbon zero by 2030, and engaging more with young people aged under 25.

We are fully committed to maintaining and improving the city’s cultural offer and I’m looking forward to seeing the strategy developed. However, I must add that our budget position may challenge this work.

We will face some difficult decisions going forwards and we have to be realistic in our ambitions until we are operating in a financially stable way.

On the subject of finances, members signed off the first phase of our budget for 2022/23 at Wednesday night’s meeting.

The authority has been operating in a very difficult financial position for some time, with big reductions in funding from government combined with a growing population putting us under much pressure.

We have a £26m gap in our finances for next year and have already identified savings totalling £9.5m to close this. We are now working on a second phase of proposals which will be published in the new year.

Alongside this we have this week published a two-year improvement plan which sets out the steps we will take to reach a stable financial position while still delivering quality statutory services for residents.

Next week there will be a special meeting of full council, which has been set up to discuss our financial situation. At the meeting members will be asked to approve the improvement plan as well as several other recommendations, including the appointment of an independent panel which will provide external advice, challenge and expertise to the council in driving forward the development and delivery of the plan.

Getting the council to a place where we can live within our means and focus on things only the council can do remains the cabinet’s priority.

I will tell you more about the Improvement Plan and what it’s looking to achieve in next week’s column.

Last night’s full council meeting also gave me a chance to say farewell and pay a glowing tribute to our outgoing chief executive, Gillian Beasley.

Gillian, who is retiring shortly, was nominated to receive the highest honour that we can bestow – the Freedom of the City, in recognition of her near 40 years of public service, nearly half of which has been spent at the council’s helm.

Throughout my time as a councillor, Peterborough has seen many changes, but one constant has been Gillian and her tireless commitment to making the city the best place possible for everyone.

The past few years have been challenging, with the council’s finances and Covid-19 to contend with, but Gillian has expertly guided us through and leaves a legacy to be proud of.

With under three weeks to go until Christmas it remains vitally important that everyone stays safe in order to celebrate the big day properly with loved ones.

Covid-19 case rates in Peterborough remain high, whilst vaccination numbers are low compared to other parts of the country.

In light of this, the city’s Enhanced Response Area (ERA) status has been extended for a further three weeks, to build on progress already made. This will allow us to increase intervention in schools until the end of term, including identification of close contacts and enabling rapid LFT testing.

In the meantime, we have also launched a new campaign called ‘Help Sleigh Covid’ which focuses on three simple things we can all do to stop the virus spread over Christmas – namely get vaccinated, rapid test before socialising and follow the hands, space, face guidelines.

Look out for the campaign’s messages on our social media channels, including a short video from yours truly, and please help spread the word.

We have faced some criticism in the past week from people wanting to see big Christmas markets and events happening in the city centre.

We all want to get back to normal, but with rates remaining high in the city we are not quite ready for this.

However, there will be festive fun this weekend from 1pm both days with the Winter Fairy appearing in the city centre as part of the Unlocking Peterborough series of events.

There will also be illuminated presents on roller skates and stilt walkers!

Then, on December 18 and 19, there will be a new micro-brewery and distillery market on the Saturday, and the return of the Vegan Market on the Sunday.

Alongside this there will be a free family festival of circus, music and art across the two days.

As always, if you’re going out please rapid test beforehand and follow safety guidance to keep safe.