Peterborough's '˜death by a thousand cuts' budget

Panic is never a pretty sight. There's always something clumsy about it, a stumbling, awkward character to a hasty retreat from danger. I couldn't help but think this when I examined the latest set of cuts that the Conservative administration has proposed for our city's budget, writes cllr Shaz Nawaz, leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council.

Sunday, 21st October 2018, 5:00 pm
Updated Sunday, 21st October 2018, 6:25 pm
Cllr Nawaz
Cllr Nawaz

Panic in this case manifested itself in a number of different ways: one of the items that leapt out at me first was cuts to patching up our roads. The last time I drove down Lincoln Road, much of it wasn’t in tip-top condition; the same holds true for many other roads in our city.

This seems short sighted for a city so reliant on road transport. Yet, the current set of cuts indicate that the administration is content for a continued deterioration to take place.

Another item that jumped out at me was cuts to sexual health services. Given the number of diseases that are still prevalent in the United Kingdom, this is rather like playing Russian Roulette with several barrels loaded, and the weapon pointed directly at the city’s young people. I wondered if the administration had forgotten what a terrible toll STI’s took in previous decades: it was only the mass availability of health services as well as education that brought it anywhere near under control.

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I noticed that St. George’s Hydrotherapy Pool, which had just been re-opened by the council, is furthermore planned to be transferred to Vivacity, which will take it off the books. However, the pool is there for residents who need it for a number of chronic conditions: what will they be charged to use it in future?

The list goes on: the signs at Peterborough’s city limits state we’re building an environmental capital. However, the post to support this ambition has been removed.

The Anti-Social Behaviour team, which supports victims and works with issues such as rough sleeping and street drinking, has also had their grant removed.

The sum total of all these cutbacks? There will still be a deficit; none of these reductions in expenditure address the continuing budget issues that will be faced by future administrations in 2020 and 2021. Unless a more far-sighted administration is elected there will presumably be another panic. Council taxes will probably go up again, and services will likely again be slashed; the council may be even secretly hoping a Labour Government comes to power so that some of the pressure may be eased. However, it’s a Labour Government at a local level that is also required, not only to manage the budgeting process for the long term, but also to look for more creative solutions.

For example, by engaging directly with the public, we can set up co-operatives to provide services such as additional bus services, rather than sit back, hope, and pray that Stagecoach will eventually do so.

We do not have to accept a cycle of panic and decline; we can be imaginative, proactive, and secure a better future.