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.
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.