It’s never too late for suggestions for Peterborough City Council’s budget

Cllr John Holdich at Sand Piper House, Fletton Quays
Cllr John Holdich at Sand Piper House, Fletton Quays

I’ve been involved in politics for most of my life, but without doubt the financial challenge that we face in 2020/21 is the toughest I have known, writes cllr John Holdich, leader of Peterborough City Council.

Since 2013/14, when the Government’s austerity measures began, it has become harder each year to fund the services our residents need with less and less funding. We’ve seen our grant from Government drop from £55m to £10m over this time and at the same time demand for services in some areas has gone through the roof – homelessness, older people requiring care, children needing school places and increasing numbers of those with special educational needs.

This means we have a gap in our budget of over £23m and like any household whose income is reduced, we have to reduce our spending and make some very difficult decisions.

You can read our budget proposals in full on our website or you can pick up a hard copy from the Town Hall or any city library.

If you choose to read them, you will see that we are finding savings and additional income in a variety of ways. We’re renegotiating and getting best value out of our contracts, increasing our commercial income, providing more services with Cambridgeshire County Council and our partners and building on our success of delivering services in different and more effective and efficient ways, for example using technology.

Many of the proposals will help improve our situation long term, so that we can reach a stage where we can provide the services that our residents need without having to make huge savings every year.

For example, we’re making ongoing savings by jointly providing some services with the county council, such as the integrated lifestyle service which helps people reduce their risk of illness by making lifestyle changes, and the contract to run children’s centres in the city.

I can’t deny that there are proposals recommending decisions that I wish we did not have to make and that will not be welcomed by the public.

It is only after we have exhausted all other avenues, that recommendations for reductions in some services have been proposed.

If you can think of other ways that we can deliver the savings that we need to, please tell us as part of the consultation process.

I have asked all our councillors to do the same – in fact, I have been asking all our members, regardless of what party they represent, to do the same for some time.

So, I was disappointed to hear the Labour Group leader Councillor Shaz Nawaz say in an interview on the radio on Monday that it was too late to suggest ideas. All he has found time to do is criticise the council. What he has not found time to do is make any alternative suggestions to balance our budget, despite being asked on many occasions to suggest ways the council can save money. We have not yet received one idea to date.

Councillor Nawaz, it is definitely not too late. I challenge you to come to me with meaningful proposals, which I promise I will be considering carefully, as my experience tells me that our residents need to see us working together as politicians in such challenging times.

If you would like to give your views or suggest alternative proposals, you can complete an online survey at www.peterborough.gov.uk/budget.

The consultation closes on 16 December at 5pm and Full Council will debate the proposals on 18 December.

This year’s Spending Review announced that we will receive an extra £6.9m next year over and above what we were expecting.

There could be more money on its way to the city too as part of the Government’s New Towns Fund.

More details have just been issued about the fund, which will give places like Peterborough a chance to bid for up to £26million.

The Government has now set up a Facebook group called @MyTownCampaign and a hashtag to use on Twitter (#MyTown), where residents can make their views known about how they think the money could be spent.

If you asked me what I think the money should be spent on, I would say without hesitation that it should go towards developing our city’s masterplan.

We are already progressing the masterplan, but with £26million we would be able to really pick up the pace and get it built quicker.

It would totally redesign our city centre, making it an even more vibrant place to be, both now and for many years to come.

This weekend I am honoured to be speaking at an event to celebrate the 550th birthday of the Sikh Guru Nanak Dev, which is a key date in the Sikh calendar.

Everyone is invited to the event in Cathedral Square from 11.15am on Saturday which follows a procession through the city by members of the Sikh community and will feature hymns, prayers and martial arts demonstrations.