Peterborough council leader: “Finances are challenging - but we do have a grip of it”

Peterborough City Council Leader Wayne Fitzgerald has said finances for the authority are ‘challenging’ - but has said the administration ‘has a grip’ on the problems.

By Stephen Briggs
Thursday, 4th November 2021, 4:59 am
Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald
Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald

His comments came after a letter from Kemi Badenoch MP, Minister of State for Equalities and Levelling Up Communities, to cllr Fitzgerald, which was published on Tuesday, said she was ‘concerned that the scale of financial challenge facing the Council is not yet fully grasped and that further steps can be taken by the Council to remedy the situation.’

A review of the council’s finances had also been taken, with a number of concerns raised.

Speaking to The Peterborough Telegraph, cllr Fitzgerald said: “I fully accept the findings of the report. The reports were compiled in the early summer. The situation has changed significantly since then.

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“We have already put forward £10 million of savings in phase one of our budget proposals.

“We have looked at the strengthening of scrutiny and auditing, and appointed an independent, external chair, and possibly some other co-opted members to strengthen the roll of audit.

“I am determined to bring the council to a sustainable financial footing. I can’t say how long that will take.”

“There reports are very serious - but we have got a grip and a grasp.”

In the report from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, concerns were raised over the level of a potential council tax rise. The report said: “Of most concern is the inclusion of amounts for an increase in Council Tax above the statutory level for which there is no agreement.”

Cllr Fitzgerald said there had never been plans for a rise of that level - but warned rises were likely.

He said; “We try to retain services, and to keep taxes low - but that is not a sustainable position.

“For example, our average Band D property tax is £1476.76. The average unitary rate elsewhere is £1599.35. If we were to raise it to that level, If we were to raise it to that level it would give us an extra £7 million.

“We don’t charge anywhere near the average, but we have a lower than average wage economy in Peterborough.

“But if people want services, they have to pay for them.”

When asked if there were any changes he would have made to decisions made in Peterborough in the past, cllr Fitzgerald said that he wasn’t the leader in the past - and that the reports were written when he had been in the role just a few weeks.

Cllr Fitzgerald said social care was by far the biggest challenge for the authority, saying two thirds of the budget was used to pay for adult and children’s services.

He said; “People are living longer, and when they live longer, there are more issues, and this has to be paid for.

“For the 2022/23 budget we have a £17 million deficit to fill. We are working hard to find where. We are doing all we can, but there will be painful decisions ahead.

“The issues would be the same whoever the administration was - it would be the same if it was the Lib Dems, Labour or any party.

“The only way out is to find more revenue or reduce services.”

Cllr Fitzgerald said it was down to the whole city to help the authority meet the financial challenges. He said: “I hope the opposition realise the seriousness of the situation, and get behind the administration to avoid the government intervening.

“We are not a Northampton and we are not a Slough, but we have challenges.

“We do have a grasp of it. But if people want the level of services, they will have to pay.”