The leader of Peterborough City Council John Holdich says the future is bright for the authority, following concerns raised by former councillor Charles Swift
“I have the utmost respect for Mr Swift, learning so much from him during the many years we worked together - and always found him to be a good, fair leader, passionate about the city and his residents.
He is completely correct in many of the facts in his letter, however, I have to take issue with him on two of the following points:-
The first is in terms of accountability.
Peterborough City Council has exactly the same levels of accountability today that it did when we first became a unitary authority in 1999.
However, the increased demands placed on these services now mean we must do this with just 20% of the government grants we received then.
The world has changed and we deliver services through the private sector, the third sector and our own joint venture companies, because it delivers better flexibility and value for money.
Just because we do not directly employ a workforce in some areas, like waste and social housing, does not mean we are not responsible for the standards and service they give us.
We have far more prevention and enforcement powers than ever before, adult social care and children’s services are far more complex and demanding, we still provide highways services, we still build and refurbish schools, we still set the local plan....the list could go on.
In addition, the Freedom of Information request system means that Councils have to be far more accountable and transparent than ever before.
The second point I would like to make is about funding.
We have a lot less money in our pockets today and the money we do have is increasingly ring fenced for specific areas, such as adult social care or provided through the Combined Authority.
Long gone are the days in which the government would give a grant and we were able to do what we liked with it.
Things are not that simple anymore.
This means we have to work a lot smarter by working with our partners, by investing in areas that we know will bring income generation and be good for the city overall, such as Fletton Quays and the forthcoming North Westgate development, and by saving money through streamlining costs, such as sharing senior managers with Cambridgeshire County Council and providing services to meet demand.
So to recap, yes more services, such as waste and social housing are carried out on external contracts, rather than internally, and yes, we are looking to share certain functions with Cambridgeshire County Council to streamline costs.
However, the council is now accountable for just as much, if not more than it was 20 years ago and we have to do this in a world in which flexibility and funding are key drivers.
If we were still running the city council according to the rules of 1999 we would have been forced to relinquish control years ago”.