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Huge achievements have been made, but challenges remain – says council’s Improvement Panel

27 July 2023

The latest report from the council’s Independent Improvement and Assurance Panel has highlighted the huge amount achieved in the past six months but also the challenges that remain.

The report is the third to be received from the panel since it was formally established in December 2021 and went before members at the Full Council meeting last night (Wednesday 26 July).

Members signed off the council’s Improvement Plan, which sets out the steps it will take to reach a stable financial position, at a meeting of Full Council in December 2021.

At the same meeting members approved the appointment of the panel to provide external advice, challenge and expertise in driving forward the development and delivery of the plan, and to provide feedback and assurance to Full Council and the Secretary of State on the progress being made.

The panel was appointed, with the membership offering a wide range of senior level experience and skills from across the sector.

The latest report is honest about the challenges that remain for the council but also recognises the improvements that have been made.

The report reads: “The panel concludes that a huge amount has been achieved in the last six months, through the hard work and dedication of members and officers alike. The devil is in the detail as always, and there are still a number of challenges facing the city council to complete the Peterborough specific strategic and governance framework that had been lacking previously and to continue to manage a difficult financial climate.

“Despite the scale of the challenges the city council is demonstrating that it has ambition and commitment, and as a result is attracting good talent to join the workforce and is re-energising officers who have worked for the council for a long time.

“The next six months will be critical in proving whether the new foundations are solid enough to weather the continuing financial challenges along with demonstrating what the portfolio boards can achieve for a genuine improvement in the lives and prospects of the communities of Peterborough.”

The council has moved closer towards becoming a financially sustainable council, ending the last financial year with a £0.6m underspend. Panel members found that the council has maintained a high level of control on revenue expenditure and has continued to make improvements in both the way that it manages budgets and in how it makes financial decisions.

However, the report recognises the continuing financial pressures on all councils, which is making the financial challenges harder to meet and increasing the budget gaps in future years.

The panel report also highlighted that the council is now on the second stage of its improvement journey, which is focussed on transforming service in a way that meets the aims of its Corporate Strategy and Medium Term Financial Strategy.

Portfolio boards focussed on the four priority areas of the Corporate Strategy are in place and developing business cases for future service delivery.

The report reads: “The Chief Executive has made progress in establishing the capacity necessary to drive the transformation that is necessary to secure the long-term future of the council and the quality of services it delivers to the community in Peterborough.”

Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald, Leader of Peterborough City Council, said: “We have continued to work very closely with our improvement panel this year, making the most of their expert support and counsel, so the details of this report are a good summary of what we know to be the case. I would like to thank them for their ongoing support and challenge.

“We have made huge progress in the past 18 months - we have greater control of our finances, members are working more collaboratively, we’ve reviewed all our contracts to ensure we are getting best value and we’re moving away from a sharing of services in many areas to ensure Peterborough gets the focus it deserves.

“As the panel highlighted, our staff and members remain focussed on the challenges and demonstrate ambition, and we are recruiting good talent to join the workforce, including executive directors for children’s and adult services who have significant experience in their sectors.

“The next phase of our improvement journey is around the transformation of services, which put simply means providing the best services possible for our residents within the budget that we have available. Our portfolio boards are driving this work and it is what will secure the long-term future of the council.

“We know we still have many challenges ahead, like all local authorities, but what sets us apart is that we have a firm grip on those challenges and have plans in place to address them.”

You can read the panel report in full here.