Council budget proposals make grim reading

07:41 Monday 17th November 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: Conservative councillors in Peterborough have announced how they plan to balance the city’s budget for next year. It makes pretty grim reading. Peterborough City Council face the challenge of bridging a £25 million shortfall in funds, created by reductions in central government funding. The main headlines from the budget proposals include a £7 million reduction from the adult social care budget, a minimum 10% rise in parking charges for city centre council-run car parks, the introduction of a parking charge for blue badge holders, more than £500,000 to be cut from the budget for Amey who run bin collections and street cleaning. And 30 members of staff will compulsorily be made redundant. And this is just the first wave of cuts. There will be more proposals in the new year. Some Opposition councillors have described them as ‘an attack on the city’s most vulnerable‘. Others have hit out at the Coalition Government for not giving the city enough funding. Joining us now is councillor John Holdich. Morning John.
JOHN HOLDICH: Good morning.
CHRIS MANN: The Deputy Leader of Peterborough City Council of course. A leading member of the Cabinet that put this together. You’ve been in the council for 37 years. Is that right?
JOHN HOLDICH: I have indeed Chris. Yes.
CHRIS MANN: Known anything tougher than this?
JOHN HOLDICH: Never, and it really wasn’t what I was elected to do.
CHRIS MANN: So where (how) did you decide where to put the red pen then?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well it is extremely difficult particularly this year. 14% of our Government funding has been cut,, which is equivalent to £44 million over five years. The next financial year as you’ve reported it’s £12.3 million, but we do have pressures of another £12 million because of the extra people coming into the service. And we do need to make £25 million worth of reductions to be able to balance our books.
CHRIS MANN: Some people will have noticed the correlation. You’re a Conservative. The Government is a Conservative-led coalition. Shouldn’t you be telling the Prime Minister and the Chancellor that they need to stop these cuts, and it’s really affecting people in your area?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well I think we’re always making representations across all the services, and one shouldn’t underestimate the task we’ve got here. For some councillors to attack it, this is the first tranche …
CHRIS MANN: Can you just answer that question again. The Government are the ones who are causing this, according to you, because you’ve had your central funding cut. It’s a Conservative government. Are you going to speak out against them?

JOHN HOLDICH: Oh undou — absolutely. You know, I mean I’m one for telling you the truth as I see it.
CHRIS MANN: So should people vote other than Conservative in the General Election as a result of this then?
JOHN HOLDICH: It’s not something that we local Conservatives or a coalition in .. because we’re not in charge of Peterborough City Council. We’re a minority authority. And you know, we wouldn’t wish to make these cuts. But we’re having to because of Government reductions. And I guess if you had somebody else on, they would tell you it was because of the mismanagement of the previous Labour government.
CHRIS MANN: But isn’t it also about the fact that mis-management of Peterborough’s solar project, led by Marco Cereste, three million quid there wasted in studies. That hasn’t helped the situation, has it?
JOHN HOLDICH: No Paul, But had it gone across, £3 million came out of capital, and people do confuse capital with revenue, it would have brought us in £7 million a year, and reduce the amount of cuts we’re going to have to make.
CHRIS MANN: But it didn’t bring you anything, and people were saying for ages before you finally admitted defeat that it was a waste of time.
JOHN HOLDICH: There’s an old story. You have to speculate to accumulate.
CHRIS MANN: Really? Speculate three million quid of valuable money?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well it was a .. certainly a .. more than a speculation when we went into it. The fact that it took so long to achieve because of the delays and opposition to it, and the tariff changed, you know, was beyond our control. But it would have brought in an extra £7 million a year.
CHRIS MANN: Do you fear the verdict of the voters, of the electorate, as a result of what you’re having to do?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well of course. And this is one of the reasons we’re going out in two tranches. One so that it can be more understandable. And two, we genuinely want to seek conversation with them about where we make the other £6 million which we believe in this first phase that whilst we suggest that you might notice some reductions in service, it is about doing them in a different way. We wish to consult the people of Peterborough and consult with Peterborough where we make the next £6 million. It’s not something as we said we want to do. It’s something that we’re having to do. And we have had five meetings of all party, because I set up an all-party budget committee. And I haven’t heard any huge alterations wto what we’ve got here.
CHRIS MANN: Is Peterborough’s future prosperity and the care of its people under attack from central government?
JOHN HOLDICH: No, I think we’ve got to find different ways of doing it. And yes, we would like to offer more services. And although you say cuts in budget, there are .. yes £12 million from the Government. And there is extra £12 million worth of pressures on it. So we’ve got to find different ways of picking up the actual pressures as well as making reductions.
CHRIS MANN: John Holdich, thank you very much indeed for joining us. Councillor John Holdich there, who’s the Deputy Leader of Peterborough City Council.