Peterborough’s empowered community

Not so long ago the services we provided for residents were largely paid for by the government or by people like you as council tax.

Times have changed – our main government grant now makes up just 2.47 per cent of our total budget.

Nowadays almost a fifth of our budget – £72million to be exact – is money generated by the council, to fund the vital services that we provide for an ever expanding population. 

We do this by, for example, selling the energy produced from our energy from waste plant, renting out our buildings and sharing expert teams such as trading standards and planning with other councils.

On Monday cabinet members will be discussing a scheme that has generated the council a hefty profit and offered some of our residents free energy.

Almost five years ago we partnered with Empower Community Management LLP to deliver solar panels on residential properties across the city and the UK, investing £23million capital funding in the process.

It’s been a real success story for the council, with thousands of residents benefitting from the installation of solar panels at no cost to themselves and free energy. Importantly, it’s also generated a hefty return on our investment – £2.6million in the past four years. This is money we have been able to use to provide valuable front-line services for residents at a time when government funding has been drastically reduced and demand for services has grown rapidly.

fitting solar panels

The loan was only ever short term – that’s the reason we have received such a good rate of return on it – and we are now close to passing our investment in this scheme to a company that will repay our loan and continue to manage the solar panels to the benefit of those already signed up.

Without income generating projects such as this, we couldn’t deliver a balanced budget and provide the services that you and thousands of other residents rely upon.

We’ve got plenty more ideas too, which I will tell you about as soon as I am able. (more…)

Extra funding secures Peterborough’s bright future

In last week’s column I spoke about the urgent need for an uplift in our government funding to allow us to continue meeting the growing needs of our residents.

In the space of three days we received two announcements about millions of pounds of extra funding that could be coming our way for things like schools, care for the elderly and regeneration.

I’d like to say that the government is an avid reader of the Peterborough Telegraph and responded directly to my column, but in reality I think it’s the result of persistent pleas from this council and many others across the country for urgent recognition of the desperate funding shortages in local government. 

In the Spending Round announced in Parliament last Wednesday we learned that extra money will be provided for education, adult social care and homelessness – in all these areas we have seen huge rises in demand. 

The number of people reporting to us as homeless in particular rose by 43 per cent in 2016/17 and has continued to rise ever since. We’re doing lots to meet this challenge – buying our own homes, partnering with Cross Keys Homes on a joint venture to build homes and working with landlords to make more homes available for rent, but we desperately need more funding to meet the growing need.

We’re yet to know exactly how much extra we will receive in each area, but for education we expect to see an additional £2.9million for schools. This is great news, but of course schools will need to factor pay increases and inflation into that which reduces the net gain. We also expect to receive in the region of £2.4m to provide education for children with special educational needs.

Then on Friday we received further good news from the government that we are one of a number of areas chosen to bid for funding of up to £25million from the New Towns fund.

It’s a further example of how our behind the scenes lobbying is starting to pay off, with recognition that we are growing without the investment to back it up.

The government has said it wants the money to be used to boost our economic growth prospects, with a focus on transport, broadband connectivity, skills and culture.

We’ll now be working together with partners to put together our bid, but we won’t be starting from scratch. We already have plans in place which this money could be used for, to accelerate our planned growth in future years. For example, we are already on track to be the third Gigabit city, this money could take this even further. Plans are also progressing at a pace now for a Peterborough University – a funding boost could help us to deliver more and quicker.

It’s heartening to know that our pleas are being heard, but I will continue to lobby those in Westminster so that Peterborough is at the forefront of their minds when allocating additional funding in the future.
(more…)

In support of the #CouncilsCan campaign

If you follow the council on social media then you might have spotted that we supported the Local Government Association’s #CouncilsCan campaign to highlight the breadth of services we provide for residents and the urgent need for certainty in our government funding.

Council services touch the lives of everyone – for some it might be their weekly bin collection or trip to the library or sports centre, for others it might be the care package they receive which allows them to remain living at home or the intervention of social workers which has protected a child from harm.

On Monday, councils across the country sent a very clear message to the government that with financial certainty, #CouncilsCan continue to support and build thriving communities.

In the past decade we’ve continued providing the services that matter to local people, despite an 80 per cent cut in our government funding and an unprecedented rise in demand for services. 

We’ve done this by becoming more commercial, managing demand better and being more innovative in the way we provide services.

We make £72million every year through investments, sharing of services, fees and charges and other means – that’s 17.5 per cent of our total budget. For example, every year we generate £2.7million by selling the energy produced by our energy-from-waste plant and we share our planning and trading standards expertise with other councils, bringing in £4million annually.

On the demand front, we support many adults and older people to use technology and adaptations at home. This is great for the resident as it helps them to stay in the home they know and love, but it’s beneficial for the council too, and the taxpayer, as it avoids a more costly care home placement. We’re also working more closely with people at the first stage of housing difficulty to support them to remain living in their own homes.

We’re also running services more innovatively. For example we’re transferring responsibility for community centres across to community organisations with the skills to run them on our behalf, thus ending our financial liability for them. Our libraries are another example – when other councils have had to close libraries, all of ours have remained open and for more hours, despite a reduction in the overall budget, thanks to new technology.

As these examples demonstrate, we are a well-run and ambitious council. But with demand continuing to rise, in 2020/21 we need to find in the region of £25m of savings to deliver a balanced budget and build a bridge to continued financial security.

Next month we will publish a first set of budget proposals for consultation which I will let you know about when I am able to. In the meantime, I assure you that we are leaving no stone unturned in our quest to meet next year’s challenge to be able to continue providing vital services for our residents. (more…)