Peterborough to receive exceptional financial support from Government

This week we had some very welcome news from Government with ministers confirming they have understood our unique situation and pressures by accepting our request for exceptional financial support.

It came as a huge relief, with there being little more we could have done to make the savings needed to deliver a balanced budget in 2021/22, after spending much of the past decade making our services as efficient as possible and maximising the income that we generate.

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Robert Jenrick and his team at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have confirmed they will be offering the council an additional £4.8m to support with the current year’s Covid-19 related costs, and up to £20m for 2021/22 through the awarding of a Capitalisation Direction. In layman’s terms this allows us to borrow money to fund revenue costs, i.e. to pay for those day-to-day services we provide, something we are not usually allowed to do. With this support from Government, we can now present to members a way to set a legal balanced budget in 2021/22.

In allowing us a Capitalisation Direction, MHCLG has recognised that the council has done everything it can to deliver much-needed services efficiently and they have trust in us to continue meeting the needs of our residents.

It’s not an intervention as has happened in other councils where the Government has felt they don’t have a firm grip of their financial situation. In our case, it has been accepted that we have done what we can – but the growth of the city and the needs of our population have outstripped the amount of money currently available to us.

The past year has been one of the most challenging I have ever experienced in local government – it will also have been one of the most challenging for many of our residents and businesses.

I am proud of the services we have provided – the support we have provided to so many – but of course all of that comes at a cost. The support from the Government for those extra costs has been fantastic, but of course it’s the hidden costs that have made the challenge of setting a budget that much higher. It’s the savings and transformation proposals we had planned for this year to save us money in future years which we have not been able to implement. It’s the income we have lost in council tax, business rates and parking revenue.

With support from our two local MPs Paul Bristow and Shailesh Vara, who have argued our case at the highest levels of Government, we have been successful in getting the approval we needed for exceptional financial support. I’m also pleased that in our feedback from MHCLG there was praise for our fantastic finance team and the council’s political administration.

However, our discussions with Government continue so that we can find a longer-term solution to the annual budget setting challenge that we and so many councils face.

As demand for our services continues to rise we need to find a way to ensure that ongoing funding for Peterborough is sufficient to support those core services we all rely on.

The Government has made a commitment to identify a fairer way to award funding for councils and we look forward to working closely with them on this.

The support put forward by MHCLG and other proposals as part of our phase two budget will be published tomorrow (Friday) and you’ll be able to read them on our website. Members will then be able to vote on options for a balanced budget in 2021/22 at the council’s budget setting Full Council meeting on 3 March.

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Countywide Co-ordination Hub continues to deliver

It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly a year since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the UK.

The past 12 months have been highly challenging, with the council’s resources severely tested.

I’m extremely proud that we’ve kept frontline services running whilst branching out to help vulnerable residents. It’s been a tough balancing act, but we have a duty to help those in need and we will continue to fulfil it.

The success of our Countywide Co-ordination Hub shows how committed we are to doing this. The hub was launched in April 2020 and has supported many vulnerable people across Peterborough.

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This includes providing food parcels, checking in with clinically extremely vulnerable people while they are shielding and, more recently, arranging transport to vaccinations.

Hub staff have made 1,985 calls and emails to 1,400 individuals, resulting in over 3,000 enquires being dealt with.

Just over half of these enquiries were from residents under 65, showing that all ages, not just the elderly, have been impacted by the pandemic.

More than 850 enquiries were from people needing access to food or help with their shopping and getting prescriptions to people self-isolating accounts for 10% of enquiries.

The hub team, which includes re-deployed council staff, have worked with organisations and community groups to ensure residents have access to mental health support, public health information, debt and financial advice, befriending and much more.

Our drive to help those in need has also assisted local businesses. We’ve worked with the government to administer grant funding to firms affected by the pandemic.

During 2020 we delivered over £35.5million in business grants. This benefited around 2,800 local businesses and I’d urge firms to get in touch to see if they are eligible for support.

In the meantime, rest assured that we will continue to keep the city moving forward.

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