Innovation means Peterborough council can

If you follow the council on social media then you might have spotted that we supported the Local Government Association’s #CouncilsCan campaign to highlight the breadth of services we provide for residents, and the urgent need for certainty in our government funding, writes Cllr John Holdich, leader of Peterborough City Council.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 7th September 2019, 1:00 pm
Cllr John Holdich
Cllr John Holdich

Council services touch the lives of everyone - for some it might be their weekly bin collection, or trip to the library or sports centre, for others it might be the care package they receive which allows them to remain living at home, or the intervention of social workers which has protected a child from harm.

On Monday, councils across the country sent a very clear message to the government that with financial certainty, #CouncilsCan continue to support and build thriving communities.

In the past decade we’ve continued providing the services that matter to local people, despite an 80 per cent cut in our government funding, and an unprecedented rise in demand for services.

We’ve done this by becoming more commercial, managing demand better, and being more innovative in the way we provide services.

We make £72million every year through investments, sharing of services, fees and charges and other means - that’s 17.5 per cent of our total budget. For example, every year we generate £2.7million by selling the energy produced by our energy-from-waste plant and we share our planning and trading standards expertise with other councils, bringing in £4million annually.

On the demand front, we support many adults and older people to use technology and adaptations at home. This is great for the resident as it helps them to stay in the home they know and love, but it’s beneficial for the council too, and the taxpayer, as it avoids a more costly care home placement. We’re also working more closely with people at the first stage of housing difficulty to support them to remain living in their own homes.

We’re also running services more innovatively. For example we’re transferring responsibility for community centres across to community organisations with the skills to run them on our behalf, thus ending our financial liability for them. Our libraries are another example - when other councils have had to close libraries, all of ours have remained open and for more hours, despite a reduction in the overall budget, thanks to new technology.

As these examples demonstrate, we are a well-run and ambitious council. But with demand continuing to rise, in 2020/21 we need to find in the region of £25m of savings to deliver a balanced budget and build a bridge to continued financial security.

Next month, we will publish a first set of budget proposals for consultation which I will let you know about when I am able to. In the meantime, I assure you that we are leaving no stone unturned in our quest to meet next year’s challenge to be able to continue providing vital services for our residents.

Last week we published two structural reports which assessed the condition of Northminster car park. We did this because we want everyone to be able to read them and understand why we have decided to demolish it.

In last week’s PT, Labour group leader Councillor Shaz Nawaz said that we should go through both reports carefully and consider the best solution. This is exactly what we did before reluctantly deciding to demolish the car park.

Councillor Nawaz also questioned the speed of our action, suggesting it was rushed.

The initial inspection carried out by Rolton recommended that we close the car park to vehicles within 4 weeks, which we did, and to close the retail units within a further three months and demolish within six months.

We would be foolish not to heed these timescales given by experts, but to do so we’ve had to make decisions quickly. That’s why there was a need to suspend scrutiny rules around the decision, so that we can press on and appoint a demolition company as soon as possible.

Our housing needs service at the Customer Service Centre in Bridge Street will be closed from Monday for five days to allow staff to introduce a new website which will make the housing register process quicker and easier for households.

The existing website will be replaced with the new Housing Jigsaw website which will allow users to update and access their own information online, rather than waiting for council staff to manually input this information. This will mean they can bid on properties quicker after submitting their application.

Anyone with an urgent emergency accommodation request during the closure can still leave an answerphone message for the team on 01733 865064 or email them at [email protected]