Cabinet given easy ride over budget plans

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A planned three hour debate to scrutinise some of Peterborough City Council’s biggest ever budget savings was finished in 37 minutes, including a five minute break to re-set the microphones.

Opposition councillors will now corner the administration on budget decision day having declined to ask questions on Monday evening.

Surprise greeted the rapid finish to preceedings which also included time spent on electing a chair for the meeting.

Over £8 million of savings were to be scrutinised by councillors in what is the second phase of the council’s budget proposals.

The first phase accounted for over £16.5 million in savings as the Conservative-run council looks to tackle an unprecedented deficit of £25.2 million to balance its books.

The scrutiny meeting was a big chance for councillors on council scrutiny committees to question cabinet members and officers over details in the budget and to request they re-think some of them.

However, only two items were discussed at the meeting. The only revelation came from Jonathan Lewis, assistant director for education and resources at the council, who said he was fairly confident staff employed at schools run under the authority would receive the living wage of £7.85.

The council is budgeting to introduce the living wage for its employees from April onwards which currently 28 do not receive.

Full council vote on the final budget details on March 4.

Councillor David Harrington, group leader of the Peterborough Independent Forum, said: “Elections are just around the corner. March 4, that’s the place when things will start to be questioned.”

Cllr Nazim Khan, Labour group leader, said budget suggestions would have just been thrown out. He added: “The group have come to the conclusion that we will say our piece at full council.”

Cllr Nick Sandford, Liberal Democrat group leader, believes councillors should not now propose big last minute changes to the budget. He added: “Monday’s meeting rather shows how weak scrutiny is.”

Following the unexpected end to the meeting, council leader Cllr Marco Cereste stated: “Clearly we got it all right,” before heading off.