Council Budget: Public respond to the planned cuts

Young campaigners in Saturday's protest.
Young campaigners in Saturday's protest.
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Council chiefs say they have listened to public opinion in Peterborough as next year’s budget, aimed at making big savings, goes before full council next week.

Thousands of city residents have had their say on cuts in this year’s budget - with council chiefs making compromises as a result.

Youngsters protest in a bid to save play centres threatened with closure outside the Town Hall at Bridge Street. Photo: David Lowndes

Youngsters protest in a bid to save play centres threatened with closure outside the Town Hall at Bridge Street. Photo: David Lowndes

The council’s budget for 2013/14 will be agreed at a meeting of the full council on March 6, and will see a raft of cost-cutting measures implemented as the authority looks to make big savings.

A number of cuts are on the table, but following a huge response from the public, some amendments are set to be voted into the plans, which are outlined below.

The council’s meals on wheels service will now be withdrawn over a two year period, resulting in an increase from £3.20 to £4.20 per meal from April 1 2013, rising to £5.20 from April 1 2014. Frozen meals are recommended to increase from £2 to £2.60 per meal from April 1 2013.

Eight children’s play centres are set to be closed, saving £800,000 - but the buildings could now be handed over to community groups to run.

A reduction in the Community Leadership Fund (CLF) has been revised to reduce the CLF by 30 per cent in 2013/14, a review on its future position will be taken at next year’s budget.

Council-funded care will be removed for those people newly classed as “high moderate’’ from April 2013. People already classed in this category will continue to receive council-funded care until their annual review.

Council chiefs are still exploring solutions to other budget proposals including cutting bus services and library hours - with both issues attracting a huge number of public responses.

Other cuts which have also attracted strong feedback are set to go ahead as planned, including an end to Neighbourhood committees, saving £3,000 and the end of funding for the Halfords Tour cycle race, saving £60,000.

However, the budget also includes key investments, including £267,000 on street cleaning, £100,000 in the Riverside Opportunity Area and £42 million on the continuing schools projects.

The council’s proposed energy farm in Newborough has also been given added importance, with the council’s additional income projected to rise from £135,000 in 2013/14 to £18.3 million by 2017/18 - largely due to selling energy generated in solar and wind farms.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s cabinet, council leader Councillor Marco Cereste said the authority had listened thoroughly to the general public.

Cllr Cereste said: “Since the proposals were first published we have engaged with the local community.

He added: “This has been important because we need to reflect what the community is telling us.

“This is not a budget about savings, it is about making Peterborough a better place to live and enable us to continue to invest in services.

“But the successes we have had often get lost in the media scramble for headlines.”

Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, said: “It is not simply a case of reducing costs.

“We also want to support people to remain active and independent for as long as possible by widening our reablement and prevention services so that we can provide the right services, information and advice at an early stage, before a person needs council-funded care.

“This would avoid someone having to access long term care unless it was absolutely necessary, which benefits the individual and the council.”

But opposition party members have expressed their concerns about the budget plans.

Nazim Khan, leader of the Peterborough Labour Party, said: “Cutting meals on wheels is a big step.

“And when you consider that elder generations have fought for this country it seems drastic.

“We are saying that the council should be more careful and look at other areas in which to make cuts.”

Nick Sandford, leader of the Peterborough Liberal Democrats, added: “The council have some difficult choices, but they have not made the most appropriate ones.

“They are keen to set up grandiose schemes like the refurbishment of Cathedral Square and Long Causeway but then cut back on essentials like meals on wheels and bus services.”

John Fox, a councillor for the Peterborough Independents, added: “Anyone who votes for the budget next week is basically voting for the Newborough solar panel scheme.

“And that is one of several reasons why I won’t be voting for this budget - it’s too much of a gamble.

“I am also annoyed that the CLF is being reduced. There are councillors who aren’t spending their allocation.

“It would make much more sense for the money that doesn’t get spent to be sensibly redistributed.”

Meanwhile, the council is also set to agree on a new housing policy as it looks to reduce its 9,000 strong housing waiting list.

The new draft policy, known as the Common Housing Register Allocations Policy, looks to change the criteria used to determine applications so that priority is given to people who need housing the most.

The new policy also has high regard for people who can demonstrate a strong local connection to Peterborough and those who are working or are training for work.

But at Monday’s cabinet meeting, concerns were raised that EU law would “trump” the policy, allowing people from EU member country countries to join the housing list ahead of locals.

Sean Evans, the council’s housing manager, replied: “People who have a strong local connection to Peterborough will always receive preference.

“And I would like to stress that the council will take every investigation of people applying for the housing list, as far as we can.”

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Campaigners fighting to save play centres say they will battle “until the end” as 1,500 people back them

Campaigners fighting to save play centres in Peterborough have vowed they will not give up the battle after 1,500 people signed a petition against the plans.

Dozens of people concerned about the effects of the proposed closures staged a protest outside Peterboroough Town Hall and signed a petition against the plans.

People of all ages came along, some with banners and signs and wearing bright colours to highlight their cause.

The council previously announced that it plans to close eight play centres as part of its bid to cut £17 million from its budget, which is currently under consultation.

The centres under threat of closure are Crofts Corner in Bretton, the Tunnel in Orton Malborne, Charteris in Welland, Chestnuts in Eastfield, the Spinney in Ravensthorpe, the Iqbal Centre in Central Ward, Thistle Drive in Stanground and the Peterborough Adventure Play Centre in Paston.

At a meeting of the council’s cabinet, council chiefs revealed there had been “strong interest” from community groups about running the centres if they close.

Speaking at the meeting, council leader Marco Cereste said: “There has been strong interest to run the centres local from community groups. And there will still be a range of options for parents, through free child care and after-school clubs.”

Stuart Mathers, a representative for the Unite union, which organised the protests, said: “The public response has been amazing.

“Over100 people turned out on Saturday to give the council a big colourful visual impact of the effects of closures.

“It is interesting to hear that the council is making noises about letting groups run the centres, it shows they have the right intentions.

“But in my view this is too late, the buildings should have been given to community groups years ago, not a week before the budget is finalised.

“We will carry on fighting because children’s futures are at stake here.”

Scout group which has been running for 49 years is facing uncertain future as part of play centre cuts

The future of a long-running Peterborough Scouts group has been plunged into uncertainty following plans to close eight city play centres.

The 58th Ravensthorpe and Westwood Scout Group meets at the Spinney Centre in Hartwell Way, Ravensthorpe, which is one of the centres earmarked for closure.

Group leaders say the closure of the venue would leave them searching for a new home, but with few suitable buildings in the immediate area the threat of them folding after 49 years is very real.

Terry Barker, treasurer at the club which currently has 45 members at its Beaver, Cub and Scout groups, said he fears for the future.

He said: “We would have nowhere else to go in Ravensthorpe - there simply aren’t any other suitable buildings for us.

“Moving out of Ravensthorpe isn’t an option - the Scouting movement works in specific areas and most of our members live in Ravensthorpe.

“We could not run the venue ourselves either, because it’s too expensive and Scouting is a self-funding movement.

“We’ve had a lot of support over this and I think a lot people realise the heartache which would be caused if it happens.”

He added: “The group has been running for 49 years, that’s a lot of history and thousands of children have been part of that.

“We’re going to have a think about what our options are but if there’s anyone out there who can help, we would love to hear from them.”

Stuart Mathers, from the Unite union, added: “The effects of closing the play centres will be devastating and far-reaching.”

Meals on wheels set to be axed - but over a two-year period - so “alternative options” can be explored

Controversial plans to scrap meals on wheels for pensioners in Peterborough are still on the cards - but changes will be phased in over two years.

There was widespread anger and fears that scores of pensioners in Peterborough could go hungry and fall ill as a result of the decision.

Meals on wheels staff deliver one hot or frozen meal a day to frail and vulnerable pensioners across the city.

Following a review by council leaders of the authority’s social care provision, the service is set to be scrapped, saving around £100,000 a year.

At a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Monday, leaders said that the proposals had resulted in widespread public feedback and as a result of this, the service will be withdrawn over a two-year period.

This will be done to “minimise impact” on those affected and to also allow alternative options to be considered.

The council does not propose to phase in the withdrawal of the subsidy for the frozen meal option, which will rise from £2 to £2.60 per meal, from April 1.

Wayne Fitzgerald, the council’s cabinet member for adult social care, said: “We have listened to the public and plan to modify a phased reduction over two years to search for alternative options.

“I am confident that changes can be implemented while nobody is left without access to the support they need.”

But Cllr Keith Sharp, who helped deliver meals on wheels for a day in 2010 during his term as Mayor of Peterborough, said the new plans were a ‘‘gimmick”.

He said: “It’s good to see that the council is listening to people and willing to compromise but this is still a step too far.

“I think it’s a gimmick to say the changes will be phased in because it’s still going to happen and vulnerable people are going to suffer.”