5% council tax rise approved for Peterborough residents

A five per cent council tax rise for Peterborough residents has been approved for the second year running.

Thursday, 14th December 2017, 5:22 am
Updated Thursday, 14th December 2017, 6:40 am
Cabinet member for resources Cllr David Seaton holding budget proposals alongside council leader Cllr John Holdich

The tax increase - of which three per cent is ringfenced to go into the adult social care budget - was agreed by Conservative-run Peterborough City Council last night (Wednesday, December 13) with Labour and Liberal Democrat members abstaining when the vote was called.

No opposition councillors voted against the measure, which was included in the first set of the council's 2018/19 budget proposals.

Other policies include investing £22,000 to set up a scheme which will introduce fines for drivers who park on verges or pavements in certain areas of the city, and a decision to put on hold the new Peterborough Lottery.

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However, during an acrimonious debate the leaders of the two largest opposition council groups warned that there could be more pain to come.

This is because the council reveals its budget proposals in two phases, with the second set of proposals due to be revealed in early January. These policies will tackle the vast majority of the council's £19 million deficit.

The cash-strapped authority is currently campaigning for fairer funding as its main government grant is reducing by 80 per cent, while it has also seen rising costs due to an increase in homelessness and residents requiring social care.

Cllr Ed Murphy, leader of the Labour group on the council, angered the Conservatives with his speech during the budget debate. He said the "pathetic" proposals offered no substance and that the only policy he approved of was a £94,000 investment to recruit two environmental health officers to undertake food safety work.

He added: "We have a homeless emergency in this city. You should have anticipated this, you didn't. You will be getting proposals from the Labour group in the new year about how we can save a lot of money in revenue and deal with the misery of Bed and Breakfasts being used."

But the Labour leader was rounded on by Conservative cabinet members after a long speech where he continually criticised the cabinet, accusing it of making "mistake after mistake."

Council leader Cllr John Holdich said: "I have not heard so much hypocritical rubbish in my life.

"The contribution that you have made to this budget is absolutely nil.

"At the last budget working meeting we asked what their proposals are. They said they will be in a Labour budget. That's not working together."

Deputy leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald said Cllr Murphy was speaking "codswallop." He added: "He speaks with some degree of authority, but what he says is not actually fact.

"We have a good grip of what's happening on the council. The reason why is the Labour Party do not make the decisions - the Conservative Party do because the electorate ask us to.

"You have nothing to offer to the people of this city."

Cabinet member for resources Cllr David Seaton began the budget debate by telling the Council Chamber: "The challenges are very clear and in many ways a unique combination. We have the adult social care, children's services and homelessness issues of all councils.

"However, we also have the challenge of a very rapidly increasing population, high levels of deprivation and historically low council tax. T=We are the fourth fastest growing city with a transient population."

Cllr Nick Sandford, Liberal Democrats group leader , said he supported the council's campaign for fairer funding, but added: "As part of this campaign we must be honest with the public and with the Government.

"This government is in danger of presiding over the destruction of local authorities by progressively cutting off funding without giving us the power to raise money from other sources.

"By giving us new powers and responsibilities but no money with which to fund them, they are not enhancing local democracy - they are running the risk of destroying it."

Cllr Holdich has previously warned that essential services face cuts unless there is more government funding. The council is due to find out later this month its final funding settlement from the Government.

Other announcements in the budget proposals include:

. Rising homelessness will cost the council an extra £5.7 million a year by April 2021

. Sixteen more schools are expected to convert to academies. The council will charge the schools £10,000 each to convert, which after additional costs will bring in £149,000

. An extra £1 million is expected to be taken in from council tax this year than previously forecast

. A saving of £300,000 will be made from charging a fee to other local authorities to make use of the council’s highway services contract

. Investments of £14,000 will be made for St George’s Community Hydrotherapy Pool and £50,000 for arts group Metal

. A previously budgeted saving of £500,000 by increasing the agile working of staff has had to be removed as officers have had growing workloads to contend with.