Three hour debate on largest ever budget deficit finishes... after 37 minutes

Cllr. David Seaton with the City Council's budget document. EMN-150114-141542009
Cllr. David Seaton with the City Council's budget document. EMN-150114-141542009
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A planned three hour debate to scrutinise the biggest ever budget savings in Peterborough City Council’s history was finished in 37 minutes, including a five minute break to re-set the microphones.

Surprise and bemusement greeted the rapid finish to preceedings which also included time spent on electing a chair for the evening.

Over £8 million of savings were to be scrutinised by councillors in what is the second phase of the council’s budget proposals.

The first phase accounted for over £16.5 million in savings as the Conservative-run council looks to tackle a £25.2 million deficit to balance its books.

Only two items were discussed during the brief meeting held on Monday night (9 February) including a reduction in maintenance to support local football clubs.

This left cabinet member Councillor Gavin Elsey bemused as he claimed changes had come into place during last year’s budget.

Following a break in proceedings to re-boot the microphone system, matters were swiftly concluded following an enquiry by Cllr Nazim Khan.

With the council to introduce a living wage to its employees, Cllr Khan enquired whether this would go to staff members at schools which are under the authority’s control.

In reply Jonathan Lewis, assistant director for education and resources at the council, said he had spoken to the Schools’ Forum and was fairly confident an arrangement would be supported.

Currently, 28 members of council staff earn below the living wage of £7.85 an hour.

The living wage will be introduced in April this year if agreed on by a meeting of full council next month.

Other matters which are in the budget but were not discussed include an annual £750,000 cut to Vivacity, which runs the council’s cultural and leisure services.

The reduction in funding has led to warnings from Vivacity’s chief executive, Kevin Tighe, that the heart of the city could be threatened.

Further savings will come in the road maintenance budget with £330,000 taken out.

The consultation on the second and final set of budget proposals ends at 5pm on Monday March 2, with full council voting on the details two days later.

Following the unexpected end to the meeting, council leader Cllr Marco Cereste stated: “Clearly we got it all right,” before heading off.

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See the ’Budget, Joint Meeting of the Scrutiny Committees and Commissions’ meeting agenda at