Last weekend the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show East reported on council finances and specifically whether local authorities have enough money to cope with the pandemic.
It was a really interesting piece, which not only looked at the essential role that councils have played in the response to the virus, but the huge demands and funding challenges it has generated.
In Peterborough, Coronavirus has created huge financial pressures for us in our drive to maintain the services that people have needed, to help those who are more vulnerable and to support the national effort to eradicate the virus.
The Government delivered on its promise and provided additional funding, but it’s fair to say that the past six months have made our budget setting process for 2021/22 and beyond even tougher than we expected it to be.
We are now looking ahead to the next financial year and how we will provide the services that we know our residents need with the money we have available. The two have not matched for a number of years.
We need the Government to agree a better funding formula for councils such as ours, so that we are not in the situation we find ourselves year after year, having to make millions of pounds worth of savings to balance our budget.
The pandemic has definitely made our financial situation worse, but it has also shone a light on councils and illustrated the essential role they play in society.
Councils like ours have been delivering regular services, supporting people who are shielding or vulnerable, managing outbreaks and more recently supporting the national test and trace service.
Our staff have gone above and beyond – as have so many of our residents for that matter who have worked tirelessly to help others.
Many services stopped once the virus hit, but there were others that had no choice but to continue. Between April and June Aragon emptied 28,000 litter and dog bins, cut 20 million square metres of grass verges and open spaces and removed more than 2,200 flytips.
Our bereavement team has continued to support families who have lost loved ones, arranging 721 cremations and burials between April and June.
We’ve supported children, adults and the elderly who’ve needed our support, we’ve maintained roads, reopened our city centre and worked closely with our schools to ensure they could open to as many pupils as possible. In fact, Peterborough is currently the 4th highest in the country for the number of children attending school at 88 per cent – that’s fantastic and a credit to our schools.
We’ve supported our businesses by administering Government grants, paying out in the region of £32million to 2,652 businesses. At one point we were level best in the country for getting these grants out to local businesses and better than anywhere else in Cambridgeshire.
We’ve also awarded 100 per cent business rate relief for 1,255 retail/hospitality/leisure businesses, totalling £40.3 million and given out 57 discretionary grants worth £570,000 and 30 discretionary grants worth £750,000.
Since March we’ve also been asked by Government to provide additional services, such as support for people who are shielding and vulnerable.
The countywide hub supported 1,544 shielded people in Peterborough, with more than 1,000 of these still receiving regular contact to check that they are okay.
We sent regular food parcels to 335 households and City College Peterborough provided over 10,000 meals in the lockdown months to vulnerable residents
More recently, the Government has asked us to support the national NHS Test and Trace service with a locally enhanced contract tracing service, using our expert knowledge of the city and our residents. Our environmental health and regulatory officers are following up on people who have tested positive for coronavirus, but who haven’t responded to a call or email from the national service, as well as getting details about their close contacts.
The pandemic has allowed us to show Government the vital role that councils play and how important it is for them to be at the forefront when there is a crisis.
We will continue to work hard to keep people safe, allow our children to learn and to improve our city, but we need fairer funding.
We have the support of our MPs in this and we will be continuing to make our case known to Government. (more…)