Sale of hydrotherapy pool and city cleansing cuts planned as Peterborough City Council looks to close £26 million funding gap

The sale of St George’s hydrotherapy pool, a cut in city cleansing and parks planting plus charges for new bins are among measures planned by Peterborough City Council as it battles to close a £26.8 million funding gap.

Friday, 15th October 2021, 4:59 pm
Updated Sunday, 17th October 2021, 8:41 pm
Peterborough City Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald with Cabinet member for finance Cllr Andy Coles with the council's Budget proposals. EMN-211015-134641009

Abolishing the annual spring clean, scrapping the city centre cleansing hit squad and ending applications for the prestigious Green Flag awards - ironically an accolade just won by three city parks, all feature in the local authority’s draft budget for the next financial year.

But council chiefs say the local authority has been squeezed by a rising demand for services, particularly in care for adults and children, and a major reduction in funding support from the Government.

Government financial aid to the council through the Revenue Support Grant has been cut from £55 million to £10 million.

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It leaves the council’s funding for 2022/23 at £168.4 million with expenditure set to be approximately £195.2 million.

It has left the council with a budget gap of £26.8 million which has prompted the launch of a two phase spending review, which will roll on into the spring.

Some £6.5 million of savings plus £3.2 million of funding changes along with £700,000 of extra costs have already been identified in the first phase leaving the council with a reduced funding gap of £17.8 million for the financial year 2022/23, which is expected to rise to £21.1 million in the following year.

Council chiefs have focused work on making up the shortfall on asset sales, a reduction of the capital programme, a ‘forensic review’ of all service spending and a review of all contracts.

While a decision on any Council Tax increase will not happen until next spring, council leader Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald has warned the average payment of £711 in Peterborough is below the national average of £785 and will eventually have to catch up.

He said: “We are a low cost unitary authority when compared with others, equally we are a very low tax authority.

“We are a long way off average and that needs to be addressed at some point because we will never close the gap and maintain budget sustainability unless we get nearer to an average Council Tax income.”

Local authorities are currently only allowed a maximum Council Tax increase of 1.99 per cent.

Cllr Fitzgerald said: “It is not going to be easy nor is it going to be comfortable for many but there is no easy fix.

“We are working together to find a way forward.”

Cllr Fitzgerald said he was confident the budget gap could be closed.

Topping a list of savings that will need approval of councillors is the sale of the St George’s hydrotherapy pool, in Dogsthorpe Road, which the council bought 10 years ago.

It is expected the imminent sale will achieve savings of £50,000 a year.

The council is also looking to drop some of the non-statutory services carried out for it by Aragon Direct Services.

These would include the removal of the cleansing hit squad with all fly tipping and litter collections picked up by the current street cleaning crews as part of their rounds.

The annual Spring Clean, which provides extra cleansing of targeted areas of the city, would be axed while the frequency of pavement washing in the city centre would be limited to once a year.

Planting in council-owned parks and open spaces in the spring and summer will no longer take place and applications for Green Flag status for city parks will no longer be made.

Together these measures will save the council £221,000 a year over the next three years.

It is also hoped to save a further £130,000 a year by charging residents for replacing lost, stolen or damaged bins - except where the bin has been damaged by refuse crews. The council currently replaces 2,000 bins a year at £75 a time.

Housing developers will also be charged for the provision of bins for new homes developments.

In addition, the council is planning a gradual withdrawal of its financial support for its economic development company Opportunity Peterborough, with an annual saving of £140,000.

Other savings - £500,000 - will be made by reducing debts owned to the council and cutting back its capital programme will save more than £2 million a year.

An array of other alterations to council support operations is expected to save a further £2.8 million a year.

But Cllr Fitzgerald said this would not mean job losses among council staff.

He said: “There are no plans for job losses at the council at the moment. As plans develop, if the council can make savings, then the business case will have to be made.”