Peterborough's budget: Cuts in street cleaning and council tax rises ahead
Peterborough City Council has been squeezed by rising social care costs and a loss of about £45m in its revenue support grant, from £55m to £10m.
These two factors unsurprisingly all feed into the local authority’s draft budget for the next financial year which proposes a raft of cuts to street cleaning services, as well as revealing the imminent sale of St George's hydrotherapy pool.
A council tax decision will be made next year following consultation, but council leader Wayne Fitzgerald has warned that the city will need to increase taxes to bring them more in line with the average.
In phase one of the budget the council is proposing £6.5m of savings, allied to £3.2m of funding changes and £0.7m of additional pressures - bringing the remaining budget gap down to £17.8m for 2022/23.
In June it was revealed external auditors had remained “seriously concerned” over the authority's financial position, even after the government had agreed to provide capitalisation direction loans worth £24.8m in February.
Cllr Fitzgerald said: "The council has a challenging task ahead of it to balance the budget, and I want to start to say to people that if they want decent services they've got to pay for them.
"We are a low council tax authority - £711 for Peterborough on average, as opposed to the average of £785 for unitary authorities. We need to move closer to that.
"The government will expect us to do all we can by stopping things we don't need to do, but will also expect us to make increases in council tax. The problem is that we are restricted to 1.99% and there are only two ways to do it; a referendum, or special permission from government.
"We know what we need to do and we are talking to them. There are tax rises every year and we have been fortunate to have low council taxes, but that is not sustainable.
"Either we generate more money through commercial activities or through council tax, but we don't know whether we can do that yet.
"Positively, I want to invest in services in the city - but people will have to pay for it."
Looking further ahead phase two of savings could mean asset sales, a change to the capital programme to reduce interest, and perhaps alterations to the £200m+ of contracts the council holds.
Council director of resources Pete Carpenter said: "We will have to do a forensic look at our services to say 'where are we?'.
"Other councils are doing this and the government will expect us to look at all those figures before they give us any further support.
"These have got to be looked at and we need a coherent plan over the next couple of months so we go into the Christmas period with a plan for sustainability for 23/24."
The budget proposes cuts in areas including street cleaning. The services - none of which are statutory - include:
- The removal of the dedicated cleansing hit squad; instead all flytipping and litter accumulations will be collected by Aragon Direct Services street cleaning crews as part of their rounds.
- Stopping the Annual Spring Clean which provides additional cleansing of targeted areas of the city.
- Reducing the frequency of pavement washing in the city centre to once a year from the current rolling programme of cleaning.
- No longer carrying out spring and summer planting in the council’s parks and open spaces. Applications for Green Flag status for city parks will no longer be made.
These will save an estimated £221,000 a year over each of the next three years, but will no doubt not be popular with taxpayers, especially when there are already issues with brown bins collections.
Meanwhile the council is also proposing to introduce a charge to residents for replacing lost, stolen or damaged bins, except where the bin has been damaged by Aragon.
Cabinet member for finance Cllr Andy Coles said: "We don't want to do these things because it will be obvious to people, but what I would point out is the amount we'll be saving.
"The removal of the dedicated squad to get rid of flytipping will be replaced by binmen on the usual routes to pick it up, which could potentially mean five to seven days for it to be picked up - but that will save us £73,000, which is not an insignificant sum.
"I hate Peterborough being regarded as the worst city in the UK and grotty because it simply isn't true, but we are going to have to do these sort of things.
"As for removing the spring cleaning, thank goodness we have groups like the Peterborough Wombles that do such an amazing bit of work. Volunteers have probably reduced the amount of spring cleaning we have to do, and by taking that out we're making an £80,000 saving
"In the city centre the hot wash is important and where there are nasty spillages of course they will be cleaned up, but we're going to reduce it and that will save us £10,000.
"Every saving matters because we have got to make savings of £10m in phase one, and the government is watching that."
The council currently contributes £140,000 to Opportunity Peterborough annually, but OP will be expected to be more self-sufficient by seeking its own funding and sponsorship, with an initial drop of £65,000 for 22/23.
This phased approach would allow time for OP, with the support of the council, to develop other sources of income such as sponsorship and grant funding.
With current Chief executive for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough councils Gillian Beasley retiring this year the joint arrangement is coming to an end, and with it funding from Cambridgshire for that role. A new chief executive for Peterborough will be sought, with a salary of £115,000
The sale of St Georges Hydrotherapy Pool to a private provider will save £50,000 a year, while customer services delivered by Serco, which have moved from Bayard Place to Fletton Quays, are now moving on again to the Town Hall, with the existing office space to be leased out.
Mr Carpenter said: "In the last 18 months the way we interact with the public has changed significantly, and so we need to adapt.
"When we closed the cash office there was very little adverse reaction and we are now down to about 30 people a day using it so we are moving to a smaller space -that's an example of how things are changing."