Peterborough City Council has agreed £12 million of savings to tackle its large budget deficit for 2016/17, although another £7.5 million is still left to be found amid fears that popular services could yet be affected.
A large chunk of the £12.1 million will come from additional income from new homes and business rates as well as a new model for residents to access council services.
And the council will also save £2 million each year until 2036/37 by repaying less of its capital debt, although in the long run this will mean paying back an extra £5.7 million due to increased interest payments.
However, concerns remain that with millions of pounds still to be removed from the council’s budget, changes to the budget for Amey - the organisation which runs street cleaning services on behalf of the council - and Vivacity - which runs the city’s arts, culture, leisure and library services - could still be around the corner.
The first set of budget details put forward by the Conservative-run cabinet were agreed at a meeting of the Full Council tonight (Thursday, December 17) with the proposals to tackle the remaining £7.5 million deficit to be brought forward in the New Year.
At that time the council, which has had to make huge savings due to cut-backs in its government grant, will also make a decision on whether to increase council tax.
Opening up the debate on the budget was Councillor David Seaton, cabinet member for resources, who said: “We know how tough the financial scenario is for local authorities. We are moving towards a position of full devolution where our financial position will be dependent on how successful the council is.”
Cllr Seaton said the budget proposals were based on the policies of a strong economy, generating new income, selling services, providing better value for money and changing the way services are delivered which includes using technology more.
He finished off his opening address by telling councillors: “These are budget savings with no cuts to services.”
However, Labour and Co-operative Councillor Ed Murphy rounded on aspects of the budget, in particular the ‘Front Door’ project which is projected to save the council £4 million a year when it is fully up and running.
The project will make council services such as social housing and personal care spending accessible online and will stop callers from being passed between departments by bringing in specialist staff to deal with enquiries as a first point of contact.
The council believes freeing up staff under the changes will allow it make the millions of pounds of savings.
But Cllr Murphy said: “If we approve phase one as it is we in danger of tripping over some major problems and falling over a cliff.
“The Front Door project has not been tested and the rural scrutiny committee said it is not particularly safe and can be a danger.”
Asking for a few measures to be deferred until the second phase of budget proposals, he added: “If you’re not willing to do it I cannot support the budget as a whole because I would be letting down the people of Peterborough.”
Cllr Mohammed Nadeem, a Conservative, said: “I’m delighted to support this budget. Whilst other councils are announcing cuts the Conservatives in Peterborough are delivering no cuts to services and it has one of the lowest rates of council tax.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Nick Sandford said: “There are glaring holes in this budget. There is nothing there on services contracted out to Amey or Vivacity.
“There’s no mention of any parking charges. You have to be left with the suspicion that the cabinet is not telling us about something that will come forward in the second proposals.”
Cabinet member Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald replied: “There’s an awful lot missing from the budget because it’s all in phase two.
“Why do we get to this meeting and everyone says they do not like it when we’ve been working on this for months in an open way?”
Cllr John Whitby of UKIP said: “A lot of things which have been discussed I do not think anyone in the room will be over the moon at having to look at, but decisions have been taken above us.
“It’s the best that everyone could come up with.”
Council leader Cllr John Holdich said: “I make no apology for putting children and social care before trees and shrubbery.”
And in his summing up, Cllr Seaton said: “With Amey we had to put money back into it last year so we have to proceed carefully.”
The budget was passed with 31 votes in favour to 12 against, with four people abstaining.