Council budget review: Double blow will mean more cuts

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A reduction of nearly £17 million for public services in Peterborough was approved - only for the city council’s finances to take a further hit almost straight away.

More than two-thirds of the money which must be trimmed from the council’s budget was passed after a vote on Wednesday, December 17.

However, the ruling Conservative-led cabinet was stung two days later when it discovered that an additional £500,000 needs to be found after a bigger than expected cut in government funding.

The news has frustrated the council’s leadership who now have to find £25.3 million of savings for 2015/16.

That job was made easier last Wednesday after a reduction of £16.7 million was agreed despite accusations of political point-scoring and frustration that speaking time on the budget proposals was limited.

The opposition Labour group were accused by council leader Cllr Marco Cereste of trying to ‘hijack’ the debate by submitting a late amendment which would see budget cuts reduced by £540,000.

The amendment, which failed, included a halving of the planned £800,000 reduction in savings for high cost care packages and £125,000 put back into street scene services.

Cllr Cereste said the cross-party budget working group which had been set up several months ago had allowed opposition councillors the chance to put forward their ideas.

He said: “This should not have come to us two days ago. I fail to understand what there is to gain by hijacking the council.”

Labour Cllr Richard Ferris said: “You don’t look to develop the market place when you are dealing with people’s health. We have to beware of this becoming a race to the bottom with the risk it will impact on care standards.”

Cllr Ed Murphy added: “It’s for this council to set the budget, not back-room deals done on a working group.”

Once the amendment was voted against, council then passed the budget proposals with 25 votes for and 17 against, with five abstentions.

The proposals see £7 million coming out of the adult social care, health and wellbeing budget.

The council is also looking to increase parking charges at three of its car parks and look at charging blue badge holders.

Street scene services such as litter collections and grass cuttings are also to take a hit, although closures for bowls clubs and tennis courts, as well as removing shrubbery, have been deferred.

Cabinet member Cllr David Seaton began debate on the budget by re-iterating the £44 million funding cut from the government in the five years up to the end of 2015/16.

He said: “I believe the phase one proposals strike the right balance between tackling the financial challenges we face and ensuring a bright future for our city and all of its people.”

An amendment by Park Ward Conservative Cllr John Peach was also agreed which moved to keep open the paddling pool in Central Park which had been budgeted to close.

Reflecting afterwards on the further bad news from the government, Cllr Cereste said: “Unfortunately the news is no great surprise, although clearly we have done even worse than expected.”

Cllr Seaton added: “We are doing everything we can under difficult circumstances and in some cases people will have learn to expect less.

“But even with all of this, these cuts simply cannot continue.”

The second wave of budget proposals, which need to reduce costs by £8.6 million, will be revealed in the new year and voted on in March.