Libraries and museums may not have to close in Peterborough, but councilors have been warned the budget will need to be balanced with alternative savings.
Phase two of the 2022/23 medium-term fiscal plan (MTFP) has seen sweeping temporary cuts to public services since it was first announced in mid-December as Peterborough City Council aims to achieve a balanced budget.
Last night’s Council Audit Committee meeting provided a graphic explanation of what those cuts were and how the savings would be used to ensure the Council presented a balanced budget to the Government on 11 March.
If Peterborough City Council fails to present a balanced budget by that day, it risks losing control of its finances and being placed under central government control.
During the meeting itself, Cllr Kirsty Knight said: “In terms of library system savings, the proposal calls for the library service to be redesigned and modernized to make it cost less.
“But we already have a library service staffed only 15 hours a week. So if there are plans to rebuild and modernize it, may I ask what that would mean?”
Cllr Steve Allen responded and said: “We are doing a full review of the library service – that might involve the closure of some libraries, it might involve the repurposing and commercialization of some libraries, it might involve staff changes.
“Cllr Howard and I study libraries extensively, and in fact we refer to every ward council when we visit the library in their community.
“We started Werrington and Eye and Thorney last week which was easy as I am the local councilor for these and was able to be on site immediately.
“We’re moving on to Hampton and Stanground next week, but we’ll be looking at all the libraries because we need to find a way to commercialize them.
“This should not deprive the community of the service, but strengthen the continuity of our library offer.”
Council leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald added: “This is largely within the purview of local councils – they have to have a say in what the Cllrs Howard and Allen are doing.
“At this point in time there is no ‘done deal’. As local councillors, tell them what you think, what you feel, what you know on the ground – that’s very important.”
Towards the end of the meeting, Cllr Fitzgerald added: “Finding that budget this year is more important than ever and if people don’t want to see it the way I see it, that’s fine – but the council has to on March 2nd.” come together and agree on a balanced budget.
“If people have ideas about what should be in the budget, that’s great, bring them up; and if you don’t like something in the budget, let your sales reps or someone know.
“But remember, if you want something in, you have to take something out. We are now in a balanced budget with serious risks to that budget and the risks are in the release of savings.
“Anything we don’t do — whether it’s libraries, or whether we don’t close the museum, or don’t close Flag Fen, or reduce hours, it just adds to the annual pressure on the budget.
“We, the Cabinet, the Administration, listen to every point of view – and if you want to talk about it, it’s not too late, the finance team is here, but they have difficult and challenging work ahead of them; but I’ll say it again for the record: you are all welcome to participate in the budget process.”
Cllr Shaz Nawaz replied: “What Cllr Fitzgerald just said makes me uncomfortable – there is an agreement with us to be part of the Financial Sustainability Working Group (FSWG), but there has never been an agreement or discussion that we support them Budget.
“It’s up to each faction and their members to decide whether or not to support the budget, so I don’t think it’s helpful for you, Cllr Fitzgerald, to tell other groups what they should or shouldn’t do, and I I think it’s also not really helpful when you’re talking about collaboration and collaborating, where the directive at FSWG was to keep everything confidential.
“Then you go to the media and say, ‘The opposition groups don’t help us, they don’t give us ideas’; you can’t have both. Either way, if we’re going to have these conversations, I think it’s better if we have them at FSWG rather than here in the open forum.”
Cllr Fitzgerald replied, “There are no instructions. What I am saying is that there is an expectation – not from me – but from others. The Chief Executive has made it clear; The chairman of the panel made it clear, the reports to the council made it clear. If you decide to ignore this advice, then ignore it at your own risk.
“As for my comments, everything I have commented on is the result of media comments and published documents.
“Nothing I’ve spoken about hasn’t already been made public, and while it’s been said that this is not a collaborative group, I sincerely think it is a collaborative group.
“Well, all I’m saying is, if it’s a collaborative group, then ‘owns the budget.’ If you don’t want that, that’s up to you. But there is an expectation of others.”
Cllr Nick Sandford added: “I have said repeatedly as members of the opposition that we are very happy to speak to him about the budget to provide constructive comments.
“But we will not take any instructions from him on how to vote when that time comes – that’s not part of the way the UK Constitution works.”
- The next meeting of the Peterborough City Council Cabinet is on Monday 21st February.
- The next general assembly will be held on Wednesday, Feb.
- The council is legally obliged to balance the budget by Friday 11 March.