Huge revamp of Peterborough City Council could see services disappear to tackle financial black hole

Services provided by Peterborough City Council could disappear as the authority prepares to completely revamp its operations.
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The council said years of huge cuts to its government funding had left it on its knees and in a desperate need to scale back in order to survive.

This could see a reduced standard for services which it is legally required to provide, while other, non-statutory services could be partially or completely scaled back.

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Further job losses are also expected, despite dozens of redundancies currently being made.

Peterborough City Council leader Cllr John  Holdich and Corporate Director for Resources Peter Carpenter discussing the budget EMN-200214-155910009Peterborough City Council leader Cllr John  Holdich and Corporate Director for Resources Peter Carpenter discussing the budget EMN-200214-155910009
Peterborough City Council leader Cllr John Holdich and Corporate Director for Resources Peter Carpenter discussing the budget EMN-200214-155910009

The authority said “all services” will be on the table as it makes cutbacks. Today’s announcement (Friday) comes after it revealed its latest set of policies to tackle a near £40 million deficit in the 2020/21 financial year.

However, at least £14 million of cost-cutting will still be needed in future years just to avoid financial oblivion.

Legally, councils are not allowed to plan to run a deficit.

Council leader Cllr John Holdich said: “If local government is to survive it has to look at doing things in a different way.”

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Cabinet member for finance Cllr David Seaton echoed those thoughts, highlighting rising demands for local services with “no sign of our funding increasing”.

He added: “We need radical change. We have to find new way of delivering services with the money that we have available.”

Since 2013/14 funding from the Government to the council has been reduced by more than 80 per cent.

Cllr Seaton said this year’s budget setting process has been “the hardest that I have ever known”.

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Under its plans to re-model the council will embark on a six week, intensive review before publishing its proposals at the end of March.

It is hoped that the new operating model will be signed off this summer before being implemented from April 2021, with a large gap in between to get preparations right.

So far it has not been suggested which services will bear the brunt of the changes, but the council said savings are anticipated to come from trimming contracts, efficiencies, or redesigning, sharing or reducing services.

It added that the revamp will lead to initial costs, including paying for external support, which will force it to ask the Government if it can be allowed to borrow the money and pay it back over 20 years rather than in one lump sum, which would mean dipping into its diminishing reserves.

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Today’s budget announcements include a £1.5 million saving from reducing the use of costly B&B-type accommodation for the homeless in Peterborough, an annual £187,000 loss of rental income from the city market and a previously announced decision to increase both car parking charges by 50p and the price of resident and visitor permits.

Moreover, the council said it will use another £1.5 million of reserves to balance the books.

In October last year the Conservative-run council published a first set of proposals which amounted to £24 million of savings. These were voted through in January.

This left a remaining budget gap of £9 million which has since widened to £15.62 million because of additional service pressures and a number of earlier proposals which are now not expected to deliver the savings previously expected.

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The first set of proposals included a four per cent rise in council tax (with two per cent ringfenced for adult social care), big cuts to funding for vulnerable groups including the elderly, young and unemployed, and up to 150 redundancies split between the council and its contractor Serco.

However, the council today said the number of redundancies had been reduced to 48 from council staff - including 18 after a round of voluntary redundancies - and upwards of 50 for Serco which is responsible for a range of frontline and back-office council services.

Cllr Nick Sandford, leader of the council’s Lib Dem group, said: “We were told that phase 2 of the council budget would include funding to tackle the climate emergency. Yet there is nothing in the revenue budget for this purpose.

“There is no point in the council declaring a climate emergency and then being unwilling to make the changes needed to the council budget to deal effectively with it.”

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Cllr Shaz Nawaz, leader of the Labour group, said: “The Labour group has been asking for a shift in thinking for many years. We were crying out loud that the administration needs to review, re-adjust and revise the way the council works.

“All of this would be done to bring radical change; efficiency so that the council evolves into a innovative and dynamic organisation. The Conservatives laughed at us and turned the other way. An arrogant approach which has brought the council to its knees.

“We now see jobs cuts, cuts to youth funding, cuts to Vivacity and external organisations who help people in urgent need like the Citizens Advice Bureaux among others. More reserves are being used, assets being sold which has led to loss of rental income, and people losing their livelihoods through redundancies.

“The Conservatives saw the tsunami coming but failed to take appropriate action at an appropriate time. I am sorry to see the pain and suffering ordinary people are having to go through; make no mistake that the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of this inept Conservative administration. There’s no more hiding from this fact.”

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Full Council will be asked to approve the budget at a meeting on Wednesday, March 4.

Articles relating to the budget will go on the Peterborough Telegraph’s website from 5pm today (Friday) until Monday morning.

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