Cllr John Holdich: Peterborough City Council budget proposals do not reduce services

Cllr John Holdich
Cllr John Holdich
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This week we published the first phase of our budget proposals for 2016/17.

Councils across the UK have had their government grants reduced by unprecedented amounts in recent years. In the last five years ours has been cut by £44million, which equates to about 40 per cent of the grant.

Currently we believe that we’ll have a budget gap of £19.6million to address in the next financial year. Our proposals out this week look to reduce our deficit by £12.1 million.

These proposals do not reduce services and, in fact, they protect them. Instead, we have been able to reduce the deficit in other ways.

Peterborough is the second fastest growing city in the country. We are seeing a record number of businesses starting up and the Job Seekers’ Allowance rate is at its lowest since 2002.

1,342 houses were built in Peterborough last year – the highest number since 1980. 500 of these were affordable homes.

Although growth produces pressures on services, especially on the number of school places we’re creating for instance, it also generates additional income for the city which we’re using to protect services.

We have exceeded our city-wide growth targets and now millions of pounds extra are being raised through additional business rates and the New Homes Bonus, a grant from government for every house that is built. We also have a lot more houses to collect council tax from.

Councils need to change and government has already said that local authorities need to move towards self-sufficiency. Therefore, we have become a more enterprising organisation.

One way is through generating income to offset the need to reduce services.

Over the last few years we have been selling our expertise to an increasing number of other councils and organisations. An example is our planning team which earns £500,000 every year in this way – and there are many other departments doing similar.

Another of our proposals is to repay some of the city’s debt off over a longer period. This would address £4million of our budget shortfall next year. We borrow this money to pay for schools, roads and improving the city.

This does, of course, mean that we will pay more in the long-term but we need to protect public services now. We carried out a review and we are proposing to align our debt repayment with the life of these assets – 42 years. Therefore the families who use these assets, such as a school or road, over the next 40 years or so will be helping to pay for them.

I believe this budget is the result of Peterborough being a growing, and increasingly successful, city. However the financial challenge for the council remains constant.

We took tough decisions early and changed the way we do things but we have not seen the reduction in services experienced elsewhere.

All our children’s centres remain open; eight now run by voluntary groups or schools. All our libraries remain open. Over 20,000 households now pay for their garden waste to be emptied, and we currently fund the care of over 1100 adults in the city; 400 in modern care homes.

We want to hear from as many residents as possible about these proposals. You can find out more at conversation or visit the Town Hall, Bayard Place or a city library for a Budget Conversation form.

The second phase proposals, which will look at the remaining £7.6million challenge, will be announced in January after the government has confirmed the level of our grant for next year.