Council Tax bills to rise by almost three per cent as Peterborough councillors tackle funding crisis

Thousands of Peterborough residents could see their Council Tax bills rise by nearly three per cent from April as councillors struggle to bridge a £27 million funding gap.

By Paul Grinnell
Friday, 21st January 2022, 3:00 pm
Peterborough City Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald with Cabinet member for finance Cllr Andy Coles with the council's Budget proposals. EMN-211015-134641009
Peterborough City Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald with Cabinet member for finance Cllr Andy Coles with the council's Budget proposals. EMN-211015-134641009

The tax hike is one of a raft of measures being considered by Peterborough City Council as it looks to achieve a balanced budget for the next financial year.

If approved, it means Band B payers will see their bills rise from April 1 to an annual £1,175.73 up £34.14 from £1,141.59.

Band D residents will face an increase of £43.89 that will take their yearly payment to £1,511.65 from £1,467.76.

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The 2.99 per cent increase includes one per cent that will go to adult social care.

But while residents will be paying more Council Tax, many services will still endure hefty cuts while others may struggle to survive in the desperate battle by councillors to ensure long term financial sustainability for the local authority.

Staff with the council will also face redundancy worries as council chiefs seek to make cost saving changes and improve the use of ICT.

Council leaders say they need to find £12.6 million of savings for the next financial year in what is the second phase of a budget setting process to close a £27 million gap in the finances that was identified at the start of the current financial year.

In addition, the council, which made about £6 million of savings in this financial year, has identified £10.2 million of funding changes.

The financial crisis is so grave that it has even prompted the Government Minister for Equalities and Levelling Up Communities, Kemi Badenoch MP, to step in and warn of her concerns that the council had not grasped the scale of the challenge and demand that it outline plans to resolve the issue.

Announcing the start of a public consultation on the council’s proposed budget, Conservative Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald, the council leader, said: “Nobody wants to increase Council Tax unnecessarily.

“It’s in line with previous increases so I don’t think it is too much of an ask. We already pay well below what we should when compared with other similar local authorities.

He added: “But if you want good services then you must be prepared to pay for them.

“Peterborough is a fairly low wage economy so we have tied over the years to keep Council Tax bills as low as we could possibly do and maintain a level of services.

“That policy is now ending because it is not financially sustainable to follow a model where the council’s grant money from Government is reducing and Council Tax rises are restricted. He said: “In order for us to catch up we’d have to put it up to something like eight per cent.

“If people want decent services they must expect to pay for them - but they don’t pay enough already and it is difficult for us to maintain the level of service or improve or invest when we have the budget gap that we do.

Cllr Fitzgerald added: “But we have a longer term plan to get us to financial sustainability - looking ahead in two to five year term to bring the council round to get us to a point where we can start to reinvest in our future for Peterborough tax payers.”

The council’s second phase review of its spending ranges across all its services with savings of more than £1.5 million to come from changes to adult social care, plus £1.1 million with a reform of children’s social care through to proposals to axe city centre events, pop-up markets and the Christmas lights switch on that could save £69,000.

The axe also hangs over the Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery and Flag Fen Archaeology Site where the council is looking to reduce the amount is pays by 50 per cent.

The library service is to be ‘remodelled’ with greater emphasis given to services provided by mobile libraries.

The council estimates it could save £1,431,000 by reducing its spending on culture and leisure services.

Savings of £41,000 are proposed with a reduction in cleansing in areas with low footfall and traffic. The planting of wildflowers on some verges could end and grass cutting near high-speed roads could be reduced.

A further £250,000 could be saved by a reduction in the management of thousands of trees across the city with only essential heath and safety work being carried out.

Disbanding the Tourist Information Centre will save £73,000 while selling the council’s CCTV service to other organisations could generate £25,000.

Reorganising the council’s Communities and Place departments - bringing together services such as housing, community safety, community development, planning, trading standards, adult skills, and climate change - could save £316,000.

Councillor Andy Coles, cabinet member for finance, said: “We have been honest with people for some time that we must make decisions this year that people will find uncomfortable.

“At the same time, we will continue to invest what we can in those services that residents tell us are important to them.

“Our crackdown on flytipping will continue and we will do all we can to keep our streets clean, safe and tidy, whilst continuing to look after the elderly and vulnerable, support children in care and assist those in housing crisis.

“In some areas where we need to reduce spending, we are proposing changes that will only be short term.

“In other areas, we want to redesign services so that they are more cost effective but also still provide a good level of service.

“We will seek partners to take on much loved services which we can no longer afford to run as a council, so they can continue to operate in the future just like the Key Theatre.”

The council’s consultation on its budget will run until February 28 at 5pm.

Councillors will debate the phase two proposals on March 2.

You can have your say at https://www.peterborough.gov.uk/council/strategies-policies-and-plans/council-strategies/peterborough-improvement-plan

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