More than £25 million of cuts and savings have been taken out of Peterborough City Council’s budget.
With over £16 million of savings having been agreed before the new year, councillors finally approved the final £8 million of proposals in a heated debate which saw angry exchanges from both sides of the council chamber at last night’s meeting (Wednesday, March 4).
Members of the opposition Labour group did not carry out an earlier threat to throw late amendments to the budget, but they hit out at the extent of the cuts.
The council has lost £44 million of funding over a five year period.
Members of the Conservative-run cabinet lambasted Labour for offering no alternatives.
The arguments took place following protests outside Town Hall with nearly a dozen people arguing against what they called an austerity agenda.
The most notable savings from the budget include over £700,000 being taken out of the annual amount given to Vivacity - the Trust which runs cultural, leisure and sports services in the city.
That cut includes over £300,000 being taken out of library services.
Further savings will come in the road maintenance budget with £330,000 taken out.
For the next two-and-a-half years non-essential maintenance on Peterborough’s least busy roads will not be carried out.
We need to put politics aide and starting working for the people of Peterborough.Councillor John Fox
A senior management review is also expected to save £500,000.
Opening last night’s debate, cabinet member Councillor Peter Hiller said it had been a huge undertaking to make the £25 million of savings.
He added: “We want a Peterborough that provides good education, prosperity, a great quality of life and, importantly, protection for the elderly. And we are delivering that.”
In response, Labour’s Cllr Richard Ferris said: “The administration needs to speak to people on the doorsteps. It is out of touch.”
Leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Cllr Nick Sandford, was the most measured of all the speakers.
He praised the administration for introducing cross party budget talks and said opposition councillors had been listened to.
Acknowledging that “difficult choices” needed to be made, he said: “This is still a Conservative budget. We have got some concerns about some of the reductions to adult social care, although these have already been agreed.”
Cllr Sandford, though, was pleased that a cross party working group would be set to up to look at bus services in Peterborough.
The debate soon became more heated.
Leader of the Labour group, Cllr Nazim Khan countered: “This budget is being dictated by 10 Downing Street.
“The demise of the public sector and move towards the private sector means if you are wealthy you will survive, but if you are not then you won’t.
“In phase one of the cuts adult social care was hit. But the administration has not stopped there.
“There will come a time where we will severely damage the service.”
Ed Murphy, a Labour and Cooperative councillor, said cuts were making it hard for nurses to look after residents.
He added: “I wish care workers were valued in society like they should be.
“Central government talks about localism but have been taking money away from us with austerity that’s not needed.
“Our MP is not batting against these cuts. We are losing hundreds of pounds per person when in Peterborough we have one of the worst infant mortality rates, but the shires have not had cuts to the same ratio.
“This administration has dashed any flickers of aspiration from the city and wasted £3 million on energy parks.
“For me, the clear problem is the adult social care budget. That’s going to hit the vulnerable and particularly the elderly.
“Last year we hit the children and this year it’s the elderly.”
Cabinet member Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald quickly hit back. He said: “The Labour Party have played no part in this budget. I come here tonight and I cannot think of anything they have included. Cllr Lisa Forbes has not inputted anything whatsoever. Stewart Jackson champions Peterborough’s cause. It’s just spend, spend, spend and you would bankrupt us.
“Those in need and who are vulnerable we are trying to protect. There are unpalatable decisions to be made and every year it gets harder.”
Cllr Forbes - Labour’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for the Peterborough seat - soon had her chance to respond. She said: “We have had a rosy account of life in the city by Cllr Hiller. We’ve lost so many services such as children’s centres closing.
“Our Tory MPs voted for this mess but I’d get us a better deal.
“It’s not the job of the opposition to set the budget. Cabinet members are paid well to do that.”
Cabinet member Cllr Gavin Elsey said the cabinet received allowances which weren’t that much.
He outlined that the council had spent £210 million rebuilding or revamping secondary schools and that new businesses were opening up in Peterborough all the time.
He added: “We’ve been more open than we’ve ever been. The Labour Party wait until the last minute and spout rubbish. Them being in charge would be a disaster. It’s shambolic. They should look at themselves.”
Cllr John Fox, an indepedent, said: “For the first time in 13 years I’ve been in a cross party working group and realised how hard it is to balance the budget.”
Addressing the Labour members he added: “We need to put politics aide and starting working for the people of Peterborough.”
The final word on the budget went to council leader Cllr Marco Cereste.
In a bullish speech which saw him interact light-heartedly with Labour councillors, Cllr Cereste declared that a Conservative administration would provide a university for Peterborough before 2020.
“That my colleagues is aspiration,” he declared.
The vote itself was straightforward for the cabinet, with 30 votes in favour of the budget and 10 against.
Ten councillors abstained.