David Seaton on Peterborough Budget Proposals

energy08:07 Monday 28th January 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: Proposals to close playcentres in the north of the county have been criticised by parents and local councillors in Peterborough. The plans are part of the City Council’s budget proposal, which includes £17 million worth of savings. They also want to axe the equivalent of 63 full-time jobs, cut bus service subsidies, stop its funding of the Halfords Tour cycle series, close the Enterprise Centre on Bridge Street, and put an end to the much talked about Neighbourhood Committees. .. Let’s speak to David Seaton. He’s the Cabinet Member for Resources at Peterborough City Council, He helped put these budget proposals together. Morning David.
DAVID SEATON: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: First of all, let’s deal with the £17 million black hole, if you like. How did that come about?
DAVID SEATON: It’s not a black hole Paul. Every year you and I have a chat, and we talk about the new pressures coming through, demography changes. We’ve got some extra money going into mental health that we need to fund. So we have these pressures come through. We’ve had a third of our grant go. So we’ve got problems every year at the moment that we have to deal with.
PAUL STAINTON: So you had a £17 million gap in funding though.
DAVID SEATON: Oh absolutely. And that’s due to reduced grant, less income in the current economic problems. And, you know, that has to be dealt with every year.
PAUL STAINTON: How did you pick the things you picked, to cut, to save money on?
DAVID SEATON: Well we go through all areas of the Council’s spend. We look at the best options, the ones that will have the least impact, we believe, on people, that will protect the vulnerable, but enable us to continue growing the city in the future. So it’s a real challenge every year, and it’s getting tougher.
PAUL STAINTON: How is closing playcentres and some children’s centres protecting the vulnerable? Doesn’t it hit the hardest?
DAVID SEATON: Well let me just say at the moment these are proposals. You know, I very much welcome feedback from passionate parish councils like Pat Nash, residents, and other political groups. I’m keeping an open mind to new ideas. You know that we have to have a balanced budget, so for proposals we lose, we have to find money from elsewhere. But the important point Paul is that whilst we’re proposing to close the playcentres, and actually we’re the only council in the eastern region that’s still got them, and we’re potentially looking to close or merge our children’s centres, we believe that all families will still have a good range of options. And the most vulnerable children will be supported.
PAUL STAINTON: How? How will you support them if you’re closing the playcentres and children’s centres?
DAVID SEATON: Let me finish Paul. Grant funding covering children’s playcentres has reduced. However, the Government has provided new ring-fenced funding covering free childcare in the Troubled Families programme. As well as that, the Extended Schools programme has resulted in many out-of-school clubs. So I think there are lots of options out there.
PAUL STAINTON: So you think that the slack will be taken up from you closing, potentially closing playcentres and children’s centres, the slack will be taken up by schools.
DAVID SEATON: That was one of the options Paul. I also talked about the new free child care for 2,3,4 year olds, and the Troubled Families programme. So there are options out there. But just to reiterate that point on playcentres, you know we’re the only council in the eastern region that has playcentres.
PAUL STAINTON: Well you should laud yourself perhaps. Perhaps it’s a good thing, isn’t it?
DAVID SEATON: Well let’s just step back for a moment. You know, Labour left us with a massive deficit, and a massive debt, and we can’t hide from that. So we have to take action. This is one area that we think we should look at, you know?
DAVID SEATON: We intend to work with local communities in respect of the play service still, as one of your texters suggested. And we will talk to communities who may well want to use these, and we’ll support them to do so.
PAUL STAINTON: Now you’re going to lose some jobs as well, the equivalent of about 63 jobs. Council staff are going to see a reduction in sick pay, and annual pay increase is frozen. Yet you might be getting your allowances increased. Is that fair?
DAVID SEATON: Well I heard the comments on Friday Paul, and I think that it’s about the rise in allowances is big red herring (?). You know the recommendation was from an independent panel.
DAVID SEATON: And I’ve not heard one of my colleagues say we should take the increase.
PAUL STAINTON: So you’re all going to vote against it.
DAVID SEATON: It’s clearly a non-story, a herring big and red. I will vote against it.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. And that’s your conscience talking there, is it?
DAVID SEATON: That’s my conscience, and it’s also entirely practical.
PAUL STAINTON: Anything else you think you ought to pull out of? Anything else you think you could have proposals to talk about? What about the solar panels that are going across the north of the city? Is that something you think you ought to think again about?
DAVID SEATON: Well I’m glad you’ve highlighted that Paul. There have been comments this morning about solar panels. And it’s precisely because of the budget challenges that we’re looking at ways to generate revenue to protect services. I think there have also been a lot of comments this morning about the Council wanting to cut services. We don’t want to, we have to. We’ve had a third of our grant funding cut. What action do we take?
PAUL STAINTON: You mention that some of these things are only proposals, and you may change your mind. You’re open to suggestion. How many of the proposals actually changed because of people’s input last year?
DAVID SEATON: Well I can think of a number. Because certainly the lollipop ladies proposal we had last year changed. In the past I’ve changed proposals on parking charges for residents. So absolutely, I listen and I think we also increased library opening hours, where we had some very good feedback from people in Werrington. So we do listen, and we do change things.
PAUL STAINTON: Well, if you’re angry, you know what to do. If you’re upset about anything that’s proposed to change in Peterborough City Council’s budget, you know what to do. As David said there, things did change last year. Perhaps you can make the changes you want rather than what the Council wants, this time around. Let us know your thoughts. There was a suggestion David as well that perhaps we ought to just hand the keys back to Cambridgeshire County Council. It might save us a fortune.
DAVID SEATON: I quite enjoyed that one Paul. Do they have playcentres? No. Have they cut bus subsidies? Yes. They’ve got a waste facility that’s broken. They’ve got a Guided Busway that’s costing them a fortune. So, you know, I think people, if they’re thinking about that they need to open their eyes before making such remarks.
PAUL STAINTON: He’s Councillor David Seaton.