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Leader Wayne Fitzgerald's blog - 22 September

22 September 2023

High on the news agenda in recent weeks has been the struggles of local councils to manage their finances and of course we saw Birmingham City Council issue a Section 114 notice limiting all but essential spending. They’re not the first council to take such action and I’m sure they won’t be the last.

It remains a very challenging time for local authorities, and some are facing budget gaps running into many tens of millions.

Here in Peterborough, we are facing a budget gap of £5.1m next year. That’s higher than we were expecting it to be at the start of the year, however inflation and high demand for services such as adult social care and children’s social care have increased the challenge. In children’s social care alone, we are spending an additional £3.5m on care for young people with very complex needs.

However, what sets us apart in Peterborough is that we have developed a firmer grip on our finances, and we have been planning for this latest challenge for some time.

We know we must find a way to meet the city’s needs without additional budget and that is why our focus is on how we transform services to achieve that aim.

As part of our work to develop proposals to meet the £5.1m challenge in 2024/25, we want to hear from residents about the services they value the most and where they would choose to invest and cut back.

As a result, this week we launched our budget simulator. First used last year - the interactive tool puts residents in the driving seat when it comes to balancing the budget, learning more about the breadth of services we provide, and have their say on which services matter most to them.

For each council service there is a description explaining what it provides and looks to achieve. In addition, there is an option to read about, or watch a video, explaining the consequences of reducing and increasing budgets.

The simulator also asks participants if they would be willing to pay above the 4.99% council tax increase that was agreed by members when the three-year Medium Term Financial Strategy was signed off in February. This included a 2% adult social care precept, providing ringfenced funding to provide adult social care services.

Government limits mean that councils cannot increase council tax above 5%, unless a referendum is held, and residents vote in favour of doing so.

It’s important that we hear the views of as many residents and groups as possible before we finalise our proposals, so please, take the time to think carefully about the challenge we are setting you and give us an idea of how you would tackle balancing our budget.

The budget simulator will be live until the end of October. Cabinet members will then receive a report detailing themes and comments arising from the budget simulator at a meeting in November. You can access the simulator here.

Last week we announced that reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) had been found in the Key Theatre and the Regional Fitness and Swimming Centre.

It was not surprising given the presence of it in so many buildings nationally, but none the less it came as a surprise and disappointment to many.

At this stage we do not know what works will be needed to make sure the buildings are safe to use, however detailed structural surveys are now being completed to identify remedial works required and any interim safety measures which need to be put in place.

If possible, we will reopen both buildings, but this can only take place when they are found to be safe.

We do have to be honest with ourselves that the Regional Fitness and Swimming Centre is nearing the end of its life and that is why we are trying to bring forward a plan for a new swimming pool, in partnership with the private sector, as quickly as possible. I made this commitment some months ago and that commitment remains.

In terms of the Key theatre, please remember that it is just the auditorium that remains closed. The Chalkboard tearoom and bistro remains open as well as other spaces including the studio theatre and box office.

And finally, this week the council has launched an easy-to-use web-based tool which helps users identify their risks of falling and suggests simple steps they can take to stay active and independent.

Steady on your Feet is aimed at those who haven’t previously had a fall but would like to understand what they can do to prevent this happening. It’s easy to use, asking a short series of questions to help understand any individual risks you might have and providing an action plan to keep you active and independent while increasing your confidence and reducing the risk of falling.

Suggested steps to prevent a fall might include arranging an eye or hearing test, increasing your activity levels and eating a balanced diet, or even looking after your feet and making sure you wear supportive footwear with non-slip soles.

You can fill in the risk checker yourself or ask a family member or friend if you need extra help. Please encourage your older friends and family members to use Steady on Your Feet and help protect them from avoidable injuries. For more information and to use the risk checker, go to Welcome to Steady on Your Feet Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.