Plea to stop cuts to Peterborough youth services fail as councillors approve £24m budget savings

Peterborough city councillors voted last night (Wednesday) to approve budget cuts of £24 million over the next two years.

Thursday, 16th January 2020, 2:53 pm

The council has been hit by huge cuts to its funding from the Government over the past decade, and despite the budget proposals approved last night more savings will need to be found before April.

Opposition parties had proposed deferring some of those cuts, particularly to youth services and the Citizens Advice Bureau, but these were heavily defeated after several hours of debate.

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Cllr Shaz Nawaz (Labour) and Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald (Conservative) standing

Pointing out the necessity of the savings, cabinet member for finance Cllr David Seaton said: “Nobody likes making cuts in services, but the simple reality is the money has to found from somewhere – we can’t magic up a pot of gold from thin air to pay for everything, so some services have to take priority over others.”

One of the more controversial savings passed was a £516,000 reduction in youth services, something Lib Dem group leader Cllr Nick Sandford was particularly upset about; he proposed deferring the cuts until July so more time could be given to discuss alternatives.

But leader of the council Cllr John Holdich said: “That simply wouldn’t serve the people of Peterborough when we need to make the savings right now, not halfway through the year.

“To wait for another seven months, continuing to spend at the rate we are, would simply be unsustainable, and besides we have no indication of any kind that an alternative will be forthcoming.”

Deputy leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, speaking after the meeting, said: “I’m naturally pleased we’ve passed this budget, but at the same time I’m disappointed we find ourselves in the financial position we are.

“This council is not against ideas from the opposition – I personally welcome them. You’ve heard me tonight say several times openly that if the opposition parties can come up with a credible alternative then we’ll happily reinstate the £516,000 taken out of the budget for youth services.

“But it has to be a viable alternative, and that is something this evening - and time and time again in the past - they simply haven’t been able to do.”

Cllr Chris Wiggin (Lib Dem, Hampton Vale), who supported the deferrals, said: “I think our proposals have failed tonight partly because we hadn’t put alternatives on the table. However, that’s only half the story.

“We’ve been working as a cross-party budget scrutiny group for months now, but as Cllr Sandford has often complained documents are not released in time so that they can be properly scrutinised.

“When we do put alternative ideas forward they’re often ignored, and at times members haven’t been notified of the meetings all of which means there have been lots of problems with that group.”

Cllr Terri Haynes (Lib Dem, Fletton and Stanground), who is a teacher, said: “Why is it that the first cuts made are always to youth services? We have an entire generation of young persons who’ve known nothing but austerity their entire lives and have just taken their GCSEs. How are they going to react to this council when they learn of yet more cuts that will potentially affect their future?”

Leader of the Labour group Cllr Shaz Nawaz said: “Making cuts to the Citizens Advice Bureau will simply harm some of the most financially challenged people in the city who genuinely rely on this service for help.”

The vote was 30 to 26 in favour of passing the budget proposal, with one abstention.