Peterborough Council Leader Marco Cereste looks forward to the expected cuts in central government funding, confirms that £12 million is a huge amount of cash, and pins his hopes on more housebuilding, Government grants for social housing, and the consequent increase in the ratepaying population, together with inward business investment to help boost the Council’s coffers, alongside some talk of renewable energy. Broadcast at 07:52 on Wednesday 22nd September 2010 in the Paul Stainton Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
PS: Now the Leader of Peterborough City Council has issued a statement ahead of next month’s Government spending review. October 20th of course is C-Day, or Cuts Day to you and I. In it Councillor Marco Cereste says they expect to lose between nine and twelve million pounds next year from the Government grant. Marco is on the phone now. Morning Marco.
MC: Hello Paul. How are you?
PS: I was alright until I read that. That’s a heck of a lot of money that we’ve got to cut. How do you know this?
MC: Well no we’re not .. we don’t know that. We’ve got indications that the minimum’s going to be twenty five per cent, probably could be as high as forty per cent. So we’re working on it, because you can’t be caught at the last minute without having made any arrangements or any provision whatsoever. We’ve been assuming since the change of government that there’s going to be at least twenty five per cent cuts. So we’ve been going through our budget, and the things that we do, bit by bit by bit by bit for months now, so that we can provide a budget that doesn’t destroy the city, keeps us going, but still enables us to deliver the services that we need to deliver in the city, and also gives us an element of growth, and some hope in the city that when we come out at the other end of it we will come out of it with a city well prepared to take on the challenges of the future.
PS: Yes. But that’s a lot of cash, isn’t it? It’s going to have an effect.
MC: A huge amount of cash, Paul. It’s a huge amount of cash. But I think we’ve got a really, really, really good team. And yes, there will be some cuts, and some people are going to be, you know, it’s not going to be that good. But what we’ve tried to do is implement many of the efficiency savings we were going to make anyway, but down the line. And we’re going to start doing them now. But it does mean that some services will suffer, some services will be cut.
PS: Which ones? Where are you looking?
MC: Well I can’t you know I can’t be specific at the moment, because we’re going out to consultation with the councillors. We’re going to consult with the public. There are options in there for people to decide for themselves, and feed back to us as councillors to see what they want us to do. But, you know, everything is up for grabs. But I can promise everybody, I can make an absolute promise, that, you know, the city will not grind to a standstill. we will continue with the growth agenda, so that we can pull in at least the income that will come from growing the city.
PS: How? How are you going to do that Marco? How are you going to …
MC; We’re going to keep our growth programme. Now some of the things that are being offered by Government which we know are available to us is that we will get .. we will get grants, extra grants, based on the amount of houses that we build. There’s even more money if those houses are social houses. We are in discussion at the moment, not just as the Council, not just Peterborough but all of the councillors are in discussion with departments at the moment over businesses, so that the more businesses that we can pull in to the city, we will be allowed to keep the business rate. We’re looking at things like producing our own renewable energy for the city, by the city, so that we can offset costs. Because if you can offset the cost of what you’re paying for things it saves you having to cut something, doesn’t it?
PS: What do you mean by offset? Do you mean put it off for a better time?
PC: No. If we, I mean, one of our plans, for example, will be to put photo-voltaic solar panels, if you like, on the roofs of every Council building in the city. It will take .. it won’t be happen in five minutes, but it will happen over the next two or three years wherever it’s possible we’re going to put photo-voltaics on. By using photo-voltaics what happens with this new feed-in tariff that the Council, the Government has announced, we will be able to actually get free energy from the sun, and save huge amounts of money on our energy bills. And even make a small profit on it, which will go back into services. And we’re looking at things like wind farms. We’re looking at things like renewables. we’re looking at all the sort of things that we can do to bring income into the city, rather than just make cuts.
PS: Yeah. That’s fine for now, but things are going to get worse, aren’t they? The reduction in grant could be by twenty fifteen twenty sixteen twenty five forty million pounds. That’s not going to cut it, is it?
MC: Well it will be forty million pounds if we don’t start now. Because that’s the cumulative effect. So if we don’t start making those savings now, if we don’t start preparing the city for those sorts of things, it is really going to be extremely bad news. Tentatively, at the moment, tentatively at the moment, what we’ve been able to do is come up with some possibilities, that if the cuts are twenty five per cent, we will be able to keep the cit’s budget in balance for the first two years, and have a surplus which we take forward into the third year. And when everybody sees what we’re trying to do, I’m sure you will agree with me that whilst these cuts are absolutely necessary, it’s the right thing to do because our economy has been totally mismanaged by the previous government. What we absolutely have to do is continue to keep the city somewhere people want to come, and a vibrant city in which people want to live. Because, you know, you could be so devastating with cuts, and you could just say I’m not going to do anything, we’re going to just cut back everything we absolutely don’t have to do, and the city will die.
PS: But are we going to get to a point where we have no leisure centres, we have no parks and gardens teams, and people are already complaining about the bus services this morning on no-car day, saying they’re a disgrace, you know we’re going to get to the point where we’ve got no facilities like that?
MC: That’s exactly what we’re trying not to do. That’s the whole point. That’s what I’m trying to tell you and the people of this city. What we’re trying to do is we want to keep this city a nice place to live. It’s a really difficult job. We’re going to come out and go into consultation with the public over the next few weeks. We believe that, and I keep saying to you, as long as the cuts do not exceed twenty five per cent of our budget, then I think that we can come up between us with a budget that everybody can live with.
PS: What if they do Marco? What if the cuts are thirty five per cent? Is that the nightmare scenario.
MC: Forty per cent, as far as I’m concerned, is nightmare scenario. Because it means that then we would be in budget for one year. Then we’d start having a problem, even into the following year, although we’d probably manage it. But the year after that, I don’t know what we would have to do to meet those cuts, unless of course some of these incomes, some of the income we’re trying to generate starts to come in. Because as I keep saying to you, balancing the budget is not necessarily just about cuts. It’s about doing things differently, generating income, and remember, it’s about also being efficient. And if you .. you know, we’ve had this discussion about consultants in the past. The consultants that we’ve used in the past saved the city thirty million pounds. We’re taking exactly the same attitude. we’re continuing to go down the same road. And we will continue to make efficiencies. We are continuing to cut our costs. So that actually the effect on the general public will be as minimal as it possibly can be. But the public will see it.
PS: Marco, thank you for coming on this morning. Marco Cereste, the Leader of Peterborough City Council.