Marco Cereste Leader of Peterborough City Council talks about his new budget cuts.
17:05 Friday 29th October 2010
Drivetime BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
ANDY BURROWS: In the last few minutes Peterborough City Council has published documents which outline how many workers will have to go, as millions of pounds worth of cuts to services are made. The move comes after the Government announced it was slashing the budgets of local authorities, as part of its Comprehensive Spending Review. Peterborough becomes the first authority in the region to outline how it plans to tackle the reductions to its budget. Earlier I spoke to the Council Leader Marco Cereste, and asked him how many members of staff will lose their jobs. (TAPE)
MARCO CERESTE: Well at the moment our numbers look like a hundred and eighty one jobs. But of course that doesn’t include vacant posts. So we’re going to take those out as well, which will reduce the number. And of course we have introduced a voluntary redundancy scheme, so that the very minimum people that we have will have to be made forcefully redundant.
AB: have you put a figure on that yet?
MC: I haven’t, and there’s no way I can do that until the staff come back to us. For all I know there may very well be over a hundred people who would voluntarily want to take redundancy. So we may not be forced to make any redundancies at all.
AB: But it’s round about a hundred and eighty jobs that are going to have to go.
AB: And this is because of the lack of funding effectively, the funding that’s been cut to your budget by the Government.
MC: Yup. The savings we’re having to make in order to keep the Council and the city going.
AB: Well let’s look at a number of key areas that are going to have to face cuts, and there are cuts across the board. But I’ll start with Children’s Services. Play centres budgets, which provide activities for five to fourteen year olds, budget to be cut by six hundred and sixty nine thousand, down to three hundred thousand after two years. So that can’t please you very much as a family man.
MC: No, not at all. And of course that’ll be completely under review, so that we can minimise the impact of that, and also to reprovide the service. So whilst we may be making cuts, it doesn’t mean the service will disappear. This is what people have to understand, we may be cutting the budget, but we are also looking for other ways of reproviding that service at a lower cost. And that’s the theme throughout the entire budget, how do we protect front line services as much as possible.
AB: Well let’s talk about our bins. Because at the moment, a gang of fellows come and pick my black bins up, or my green bins, every week. What’s going to happen there?
MC: Well no change really. They’re going to be coming to collect your bins every week as is. And then hopefully in the New Year, they will go out to a different organisation, and again, that shouldn’t change anything to the services that people in this city receive.
AB: It’s going to be outsourced then, from next year?
MC: It is. Yes. Well, we say that. We’re going through the process. If we get the right answers it will be outsourced. Yes.
AB: Does that mean that’s one area there will be job losses?
MC: Well not made by ourselves. And you never know what will happen when an organisation is taken over by another, by an outsourcing organisation. Certainly we have to drive down costs. We have to make efficiencies, if we’re going to keep the city going.
AB: Is there a war on the motorist that you’re about to start?
MC: Er no.
AB: What are you doing with car parking?
MC: Well we’re reviewing them, the whole of the car parking. Actually, not to war on the motorist, but to try and get better value from them. People in this city will know, there’s the Car Haven carpark. There are the carparks around the Wirrina, and down on the Embankment. Some of those are the best sites in the entire city, and we’ve got ground level carparking on them. It’s madness. So actually what we need to do is we need to look at concentrating our carparks more effectively, and then redeveloping the sites for the benefit of the city, to bring in more income.
AB: Your document says we will seek to competitively price each of our carparks.
MC: Yes well that doesn’t mean putting the prices up. That means enabling us to compete with the other people. So we can actually put them down. When other carparks do special offers and things like that, we can’t react to those promotions. So what we’re going to do now is we’re going to put in electronic systems, so we can do the same promotions.
AB: Also it says, your document says CCTV cameras in our Council vehicles will capture through ANPR, parking on hazard marking on the way to school, that kind of thing. It will generate automatic fines for motorists who park ..
MC: I think everybody in the city would be only too pleased. Let’s face it, some people park very close to the school entrances where it’s clearly marked that they shouldn’t. They’re putting our children at risk. They park in places that stop emergency vehicles getting down, and they put all of us at risk. And I don’t think anybody in this city is going to say well we shouldn’t be penalising those people and making them pay for doing things like that.
AB: Do you get that money directly then?
AB: That money doesn’t go to the Home Office?
MC: It’ll be .. some of it does. But it will be more than cost effective. Over a period of time it will actually make money for the city. But that’s not really the main issue. The main issue is to make the city safer, and a better place for us to live.
MC: You’re going to start charging blue badge holders, is that correct?
MC: That was a decision that was made a long time ago. It’s not a new proposal. It’s about, if people park, they pay for parking, although they get special privileges.
AB: One of the projects which you announced very early in your reign was wi-fi for the city centre. It was called a vanity project at the time. And that project’s now been put on hold.
MC: Yes. It’s been put on hold. It’s not a vanity project. It would have paid for itself. But because there are things that we’re going to announce next year anyway, which are in the same sort of ilk, there’s no point in the City Council spending any money at the moment, whilst there’s some really interesting things about to happen. And we’ll make those announcements in January February.
AB: Libraries, and as I say there’s a whole host of things we could be talking about here. Libraries budgets to be cut by two hundred and fiftry thousand pounds per year. Smaller libraries will be cut to twenty one hours per week. Central Library will stay the same. All other libraries will have hours cut to twenty nine hours per week. That will be a difficult moment for a lot of people that use our libraries.
MC: Actually when you think about it that’s not a bad deal. Considering we’ve had twenty five twenty eight per cent of our grant cut, libraries are getting away very lightly. In a lot of places they’re being closed completely. And the other thing that we will be doing is we will be talking to local residents, and local groups, who may want to actually take on the responsibility of keeping those libraries open. So what we’re saying is, we have to cut so much to meet our budgets, but that doesn’t mean the library necessarily has to just remain open for those times. If there are local groups and local communities that want to come forward and say well you know, we think it’s important enough for us to make, to form a little voluntary group, and keep it open, we’re going to allow them to do that.
AB: Let’s just go back to jobs for just a moment. Have you been briefing your Heads of Departments over the last few days?
MC: It’a all happening, yes. It’s all happening. One of the briefings is going on now as we speak.
AB: And do you know what the reaction is among the staff so far?
MC: I think the staff are .. you cannot expect the staff to be happy with what we’re doing. I think they understand that we’re doing the very best that we can under the circumstances. I have to say that the negotiations with the unions, talking with them, keeping them on board, appraised about what our thoughts are, and actually getting them to feed in ideas as to what we can do, has been going on for months. So this is not going to be new, and we are being very sensitive, very caring. I don’t want to see a single job loss. And the only reason we’re going to have job losses is because we just do not have another choice.
AB: The first Council in the region to outline exactly the way forward over the next two or three years, how come Peterborough blinked first?
MC: Well because as I said to you, forgive me, but I take the job of Leader and the Cabinet takes its job as being the administration, and the Conservative group takes its job as being in administration, very seriously. It’s been clear, it’s been absolutely clear that we were going to be facing these problems. We couldn’t have forecast exactly the scale, but we knew we were going to be facing these problems. So we’ve been working on them properly. So this is not a knee-jerk reaction. This is a well thought out process that we’re bringing in early. And we’re bringing it forward early so that people of this city can actually participate in the process of looking at what we’re doing, being genuinely consulted in what we’re trying to do, and understand what we’re trying to do. Some front line services are bound to be affected. But the whole thrust of this budget is to continue to invest in the city, to do the things we absolutely need to do in order to attract new jobs to replace those jobs that we’re going to lose, and to attract housing for those people who desperately need housing, and to attract new businesess and investment, so that the city can continue to thrive and prosper.
AB: You’re making a profit though aren’t you, for the next couple of years?
MC: Well we’re not making a profit. What we’re doing is we’re just building up reserves for what you can clearly see are going to be two horrendous years at the tail end of the situation. Now what we are doing of course, we’re working on a whole number of projects that will increase income for the city. Now if we are successful in increasing income for the city, then of course years three and four we are hoping to be able to stop making the cuts that may be necessary, and actually people in this city will be able to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It won’t be a train.
AB: And just finally, can you rule out any further job cuts over the next three, four years?
MC: I would love to say yes, but I can’t. But I do think that if we can .. if we all work together in this city, and we all achieve what we’re trying to achieve as set out in the budget, then it’s unlikely that there will be further job cuts. But you can never ever say never.
AB: That was the Leader of Peterborough City Council, Marco Cereste. We’ll have more from him a little bit later on in the programme.
17:45 Friday 29th October 2010
Drivetime BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
ANDY BURROWS: Our top story this afternoon, it’s about Peterborough City Council. It’s published documents which outline millions of pounds worth of cuts, also cuts in staffing levels as well, redundancies that are going to have to be made. The move comes after the Government announced it was slashing the budgets of local authorities as part of its Comprehensive Spending Review. Peterborough becomes the first authority in the region to outline how it plans to tackle the reduction to its budget. The headlines so far, a hundred and eighty one jobs will go. There will be cuts to Children’s Services, bin collections will be outsourced to a private company. The project to put wi-fi internet connection throughout the city centre is on hold. The Council is to sell thirty six million pounds worth of assets. Things will rise, like cremation fees, allotment fees, they’ll go up. And library budgets will be cut, so will their opening hours as well. But there is investment, including putting solar panels on all Council buildings, according to the Council Leader Marco Cereste when he spoke to me earlier today. (TAPE)
MC: Well that will save us a small fortune straight away, and then in the future I am sure that in the future it will be the best thing we’ll have ever done. If you look at the projection for energy costs and the costs of electricty over the next five years, they’re projected to go up by at least fifty per cent. Some people are saying a hundred per cent. You can imagine, if we put solar panels on the building, we take advantage of the feed-in tariff, so we get a very good return on our investment, plus we get free energy use in the building, plus it gives us energy to then sell on to the people in this city. And we could probably sell it on at a discount. So the whole prospect, the whole prospect, is to do the solar panels, save money for the city, but also make that energy available for other people in the city, so they can have green energy at lower cost.
AB: And street lights. You’re going to spend three million pounds replacing the street lights in Peterborough.
MC: Yeah, the street lights in Peterborough, we’re going to spend three million, but we’re going to save more than ten per cent to that on a yearly basis. So actually in a ten year scheme of things,even if prices didn’t go up. we’d get our money back in about ten years. And we’d be saving the environment, and we’re doing the right thing. What we need to do however is we need to make sure that we protect ourselves against what will be the future price hike in energy costs in the future.
AB: Let’s talk about the Posh ground. What’s happening there? because you’re heavily involved in the redevelopment of the Moyes End. Is that project now on hold?
MC: No no. No. That project will go ahead. That project is what I call the Skills Academy. Lots of people call it other things. They call it the STEM Centre etcetera. But you know again this fits in entirely with the objective of our administration, our Conservative administration, to continue with upskilling the people of this city, making it possible for people to aquire new skills, and to retrain, so that they are better able to take advantage of the jobs that are in the city. We both know there’s over five thousand vacancies in Peterborough (cite needed), so if we can provide services that enable those people who live here to get new skills, get new abilities, and go out and train, and actually match the jobs that are available, they can get into work.