Protecting Peterborough’s community centres

Since 2010 more than 500 community centres have closed nationally. In Peterborough that figure is zero, writes leader of Peterborough City Council Cllr John Holdich.

Sunday, 10th March 2019, 4:55 am
Thistle Drive Community Centre

It’s understandable when you consider the financial strain many councils, including our own, are under following unprecedented cuts in government funding and rising demand for services.

It would have been very easy for us to follow suit, however, we’ve taken a different approach to be able to protect these important community hubs and keep them open.

Our 48 council-owned community facilities have been successfully run by voluntary community organisations for many years.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

We are now going one step further and transferring full responsibility for management and running of community centres from the council to community organisations under a Community Asset Transfer Scheme.

This will save the council considerable yearly running costs, at a time when every penny is needed to cope with rising demands in adults and children’s social care and to keep open vital services such as libraries, parks and open spaces.

The alternative would be to close them, something we have strived to avoid.

We faced a similar situation with our library service, where we needed to make a saving. We managed to keep every library in the city open, for longer hours, by introducing self serve technology.

We’re currently on the look-out for new management organisations for two of our community centres, Copeland in Bretton and Thistle Drive, in Stanground, as the current groups are no longer able to continue.

Each of the centres would need to be operated as a social enterprise by a constituted group who would be responsible for overall management and generating a profit sufficient to cover day to day running costs and on-going repairs and maintenance.

Anyone interested in taking over the running of Copeland or Thistle Drive, should contact us by emailing [email protected] The deadline for the return of business plans March 29.

You may have seen in the media this week that there has been criticism of the council’s financial management. I want to set the record straight as the report from a national organisation was misleading and did not explain the situation fully.

We have always been open and transparent about our use of capital receipts – the money we raise when we sell redundant or unused assets – such as Bayard Place. We’ve done this since 2015/16.

What we’ve done has been detailed each year in our Medium Term Financial Strategy and our Statement of Accounts, both of which are public documents which are fully open to scrutiny by all members and the public.

Our approach is:

• Legal – it’s in the legislation, and we’ve had our approach confirmed by a leading barrister this week

• Recommended by the Government itself - in its own statutory guidance on Minimum Revenue Provision, issued by the Secretary of State

• Approved by external, independent auditors every year since 2015/16

In my view it’s also in the best interests of the people of Peterborough – where unused assets are sold, we use the money we raise to continue our work providing vital services.

I am really proud of the work that our housing team has done in recent years to improve the general standard of privately rented properties across Peterborough.

We introduced our Selective Licensing policy back in September 2016, requiring landlords who rent properties in designated areas to obtain a license. To do this, they must meet certain criteria and be a fit and proper person.

This has helped to generally improve standards and last week the team’s work was highlighted in a positive piece on BBC One’s Look East.

As we have highlighted before, whenever the team gains evidence of landlords breaking the law they will take action and one recent case saw a landlord fined over £7,000.

But we also want to make it clear that our housing team is here to help landlords, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding and do great jobs.

So if you’re a landlord and unsure about aspects of the law or you’re thinking of becoming one and want some advice, call the team on 01733 747474.

The Fletton Quays development is really starting to take shape and this week we received a planning application for 100 new apartments.

The proposed apartment building would be built adjacent to the Hilton Garden Inn hotel.

The plans have been brought forward by Propiteer, who will also be developing and running the 4-star Hilton Garden Inn hotel.

Fletton Quays is already shaping up as a high quality development and a fantastic place to live.