Peterborough University ‘not in doubt’ despite budget crisis at council

Cllr John Holdich
Cllr John Holdich
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Plans for Peterborough’s university will not be put ‘on hold’ because of a budget crisis at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority according to city council leader John Holdich.

Mayor of the combined authority James Palmer apologised this week after it emerged that a major restructuring of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough authority’s finances was needed.

Leader of the Council, Cllr John Holdich promised the city’s university project would not be affected despite the reports that some Combined Authority projects that are as yet unfunded could be at risk in the future. He said: “I know that there have been rumblings about the possibility that the University of Peterborough is potentially at risk because of lack of funds – this simply is not true.

“Everything is going at pace at the moment, and we are costing what we need very carefully and closely.

“Once we have had the Financial Report back from Pinsent Masons (December 2018) and the Technical Partnership Review from Gleeds (January 2019), we should know by Easter 2019 that we will be able to offer degrees under the name of ‘University of Peterborough’.

“In the meantime, we will begin with courses in September 2019 for up to 600 students under the banner of University Centre Peterborough and Anglia Ruskin University along the river, and then all being well with our probation period of three years passed, we will offer courses in September 2022 for up to 2000 students and 200 academics as the University of Peterborough.

“These are exciting times, and I am completely confident that these schemes will be fully and properly funded. I’ve put a lot of years of my life into this project. Setting up a University is not easy, it takes money and a lot of it. We originally had £3m funding for buildings, we’ve got an additional £9m now to add to it, so I can say that we have a solid and positive pathway to the future, and that we will break ground on time.”

But Labour Peterborough city councillor Ed Murphy, said: “We have heard that the resources for some of these projects is just being stretched too far; the Combined Authority simply have too many schemes on the go at once and this has potentially jeopardised the University of Peterborough.

“When Mayor Palmer was elected we were all told that the University of Peterborough would be the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Combined Authority’s projects. Now I am beginning to doubt it will ever get built.

“Mayor Palmer has spent 40 per cent of his budget on administration in the last six months, and only this week do we hear he’s apologised because he ‘underestimated his admin costs’ by a staggering £6.75m – how do mistakes like that happen?

“ It doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.”

The financial problems first emerged this week when it was revealed that major projects planned by the Combined Authority could ‘run out of money’ unless urgent changes are made to the way it spends its budget.

 The Overview & Scrutiny Committee of Peterborough’s mayoral authority were told at a meeting on Tuesday (November 26), they must rethink the way money is being spent or the authority could run out of funds for a number of major countywide projects .

 The warning came from Karl Fenlon, Interim Chief Financial Officer at the authority who said: “The authority has far too many major projects running already, and we need to refocus our priorities or the funding for some of these will run out by 2023. We need to focus on the deliverable rather than the aspirational. Trade-offs will have to be made on certain schemes in order to prioritise the money for other project.”

Mayor James Palmer has also admitted he underestimated the cost of running the new combined authority, and says original predictions it would cost £850,000 a year were never going to be realistic.

Initially, it had been claimed the authority could be run on £850,000 a year. Now there are fears costs are “spiralling out of control” after it emerged the authority is set to spend £5.6million on staff salaries alone this year. Total operational costs of the combined authority are set to come to £7.6million.

Lucy Nethsingha, chairwoman of the combined authority’s overview and scrutiny committee asked Mr Palmer what he had to say about the increased costs.

Mr Palmer said: “I can only apologise. I underestimated the cost of running such an important authority.

“I think, realistically, we were never going to be able to function on £850,000 a year.”

Mr Palmer said he was concerned about costs at the authority which is why he has commissioned a review of its structure.