What Now for Peterborough’s Neighbourhood Councils?

The way Neighbourhood Councils are being run in Peterborough could soon change. The new proposal would see the twenty five thousand pounds given to Neighbourhoods come from a different source. If approved, the changes would also see the meetings take place less often.

07:35 Monday 15th November 2010
Peterborough Breakfast Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Now the way Neighbourhood Councils are being run in Peterborough could soon change. The new proposal would see the twenty five thousand pounds given to Neighbourhoods come from a different source. If approved, the changes would also see the meetings take place less often. Joining us now to explain the changes is Adrian Chapman, Head of Neighbourhoods at Peterborough City Council. Morning Adrian.
ADRIAN CHAPMAN: Good morning.
PS: Nice to meet you. We’ve not spoken before. Now we’ve called them changes. Is that a convoluted fluffy nice way of packaging it all up when actually it’s cuts?
AC: I don’t think so. And we always committed when we started Neighbourhood Councils a year ago to review them. And we knew that we would never get it right first time. This is a brand new idea. I am absolutely passionate and determined to make these work, because I believe they are the right thing for Peterborough, especially at the moment, when we are facing some massive challenges, as far as public finance is concerned. And what we’ve done is put forward some ideas for consultation, which include reducing the number of meetings, formal meetings, to two a year, to four for each of the areas. and also changing the way that finance is delegated to Neighbourhood Councils. What I want to do though is make sure that that is thought about very carefully, and that whatever we end up with, whether it’s two meetings a year, or four meetings a year, or however many meetings a year, really work for our commuities. These are a fantastic opportunity to get communities involved in the debate and discussions about their own neighbourhoods.
PS: So these have only just been set up though. They were set up badly basically is what you’re saying.
AC: No I don’t think so. I think ..
PS: But they’re brand new.
AC: They are brand new. They’ve been going a year. We’ve only had five meetings in each of the areas. Like I say though, I don’t think we could ever have predicted just how they would have gone down in Peterborough. And we’ve probably got eighty per cent of it right, but we know we need to do more around attracting the public to these meetings. We’re expecting people to turn out for two hours once a quarter, to a sports hall, or to a community venue. And unless the agendas are more appealing, more engaging, and actually Neighbourhood Councils start to make real decisions ..
PS: The other problem is as well of course, probably the reason people don’t turn up is they don’t think that their voice will be heard, because perhaps it hasn’t been over the years. And whether you have two a year, or four a year, or twenty five a year, that’s not going to change, is it?
AC: I think it is going to change. And it’s not really for me to comment on what’s happened historically, but I absolutely guarantee you that these will work for Peterborough. This is our opportunity to get the voice of local people heard, about issues that really do affect their …
PS: How many people have been attending on average?
AC: It really varies. It’s really interesting. We’ve got seven Neighbourhood Council areas. In some cases members of the public probably amount to about fifteen. And in others we have a full sport hall. So it’s really varied, not sure why that is. The agendas are generally the same. In some areas of the city we’ve done a lot of work over the years to involve people and engage people in decisions that are affecting them. In other areas perhaps we’ve done less of that work. And maybe that’s got something to do with the attendance levels.
PS: You’re going to save twenty five thousand pounds from each of the Neighbourhood Councils. That’s about a hundred and seventy five grand you’re going to save. Surely we could have saved it last year, couldn’t we, if it had been sorted out right? This is brand new. Was this money just .. were we just being profligate with this money?
AC: No I don’t think so. I think what was important in the first year was to show communities that actually some decisions can be influenced by the debate and discussion that takes place in Neighbourhood Councils, and then money can actually be spent as a result of that discussion and debate. Going forwards, what I would like to see is more of that discussion and debate, and the use of public funds being really influenced way beyond the twenty five thousand pounds, even if that money isn’t in direct control of Neighbourhood Councils, that money being influenced by the public, through debate and discussion.
PS: Are there are ideas, because they’ve been going just nearly a year now ..
AC: That’s right.
PS: .. any ideas that have come from the public, that have gone through this process, and come to fruition?
AC: Yes. Quite a lot. We spent the first few months producing what are called community action plans, which are very dynamic, very brief documents that capture the priorities in the community. And in all of our areas we’ve got now some direct action taking place in communities, perhaps around improving the environment, or improving local facilities. That’s one of the most significant changes, what we’ve been doing in parish areas, where there’s been a bit of a tension, if you like, between Parish Councils, the role of Parish Councils, and Neighbourhood Council. We’ve done some really intensive work with Parish Councils to produce a totally different set of recommendations that will come forward to Cabinet in due course, to change the way we operate Neighbourhood Councils in rural areas.
PS: Some councillors say the cuts you’re making don’t go far enough. Have a listen to this. This is Councillor Stephen Goldspink. (TAPE)
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: We’re going to halve the number of Neighbourhood Councils in a year. I bet we’re not going to halve the payments made to Neighbourhood Council Chairmen, who are councillors. If we did that, that would save seven and a half thousand pounds.(LIVE)
PS: There you go. There’s some good advice there from Stephen Goldspink. Or not?
AC: Yes. Stephen Goldspink was at the Scrutiny Committee meeting last Wednesday, and made some views known, as well as did other councillors, and I’m really really pleased to say that we have now formed a review group from the Strong and Supportive Communities Scrutiny Committee. That will be a cross-party group looking to review with officers the Neighbourhood Council model, and we’ll make recommendations to Cabinet in Full Council in due course. And Stephen along with other councillors will of course play a major part in that review process.
PS: Adrian, thank you for coming in this morning. Appreciate it. Adrian Chapman, Head of Neighbourhoods at Peterborough City Council.