Budget Phase two: Impact on city's cultural venues including Museum

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Peterborough Museum is a treasure trove of amazing items.

Currently the council spends in the region of £2.6million operating the museum and art gallery, libraries, the Key Theatre and Flag Fen, gyms and leisure centres, the regional pool, and the Lido.  

The council recently announced the closure of the Key Theatre and the suspension of public access to Werrington Leisure Centre from January 1 to manage its dire financial situation.  

This announcement was followed by an outcry from the city who called it council’s “short-sightedness” and a “huge loss to the city”. 

On a positive note, the Key Theatre was saved in the 11th hour after Selladoor, who run the New Theatre in Broadway, took over the operations this week on a five-year agreement. 

In phase two of the budget, the council has said today (January 21), they might have to close some libraries and reduce some operations at both Flag Fen and the museum as they “simply can't afford them”. 

In the media briefing, the council outlines 'remodelling the library service to reduce the running costs, including investment in a mobile library service, and a reduction in budget for the museum and Flag Fen which will see the operating models for both venues change.' They forecast to make a saving of over £1.4m.  

Peterborough Matters asked how the council can justify reducing funding for cultural activities while potentially trying to bid for the ‘City of Culture’ status later in the decade. We also asked them how many libraries will close.  

In response, executive director for people and communities Wendi Ogle-Welbourn said: “We want to work with all council members, staff and the public to talk about how and what we want to deliver for our library service. Libraries are very important for our communities. We are looking to develop a new operating model for libraries, including perhaps using more volunteers and using the sites to provide other services.

“We think there are other ways we can use them and bring in income and keep them open, or we might repurpose the building.  

“We are not saying we are not closing any (libraries) but we will do it in consultation with our councillors and our residents and it will be done over a time.  Libraries are a statutory service, so we have to provide it, but how we provide it is up to us and we will be required to go out for a statuary consultation period once we have actually developed the model of delivery.

"And because of the work that needs doing, it’s unlikely that we will make those savings before the latter end of next year.  

“We have been very clear- we can provide only what we can afford. We have to take money out of Flag Fen and the Museum as it’s not affordable as it is now.  

“That may mean in short-term reduced opening. We are wanting to work with other organisations on how they might invest in the culture aspects of our city. 

“We get a lot of footfall from schools at Flag Fen. Universities want to use it as part of their archaeology curriculum so that sounds positive. We are not looking at closing it at all, but we are saying we only have so much money to deliver it and it might be lesser offer for a short time.” 

A review into Peterborough City Council, carried out in the summer, was commissioned by Minister of State for Equalities and Levelling Up Communities Kemi Badenoch MP, and made a number of other recommendations while raising concerns. 

An overview from Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) lead reviewer Andrew Flockhart, in which he detailed interviews with around 30 council members and officers, said there was "insufficient clarity about the financial standing of the authority and the absence of a robust strategy and plan of action to close the funding gap in the current and future years." 

But leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald said that since the report was commissioned the council had made considerable progress.  

The October budget plans revealed measures including cutting back on street cleaning, selling St George's Hydrotherapy Pool and even the sale of the Town Hall was not off the table

There was also an expectation of Opportunity Peterborough to become more self-sufficient. 

The council has been squeezed by rising social care costs and a loss of about £45m in its revenue support grant, from £55m to £10m, plus the recent impact of Covid. 

The first stage was approved at a meeting in December, with 30 members voting ‘for’ the budget, but critically 27 members elected to abstain from voting, which could have put that approval at risk.