Cllr John Peach, the leader of Peterborough Council, says his Council finances are taking a hit from the recession. But speeding up processing time for Children’s Services has helped children as well as saved money.

I am glad we banked (and saved) some of our savings over the last two years here in Peterborough as without this ‘insulation’ the last few months, as bad as they have been, would have been much worse.

The credit crunch has knocked £4.4m of our revenue in areas which affect all councils: planning income, parking income, land charges and of course interest on our deposits. Combined with the insistence of
Government that we have fewer people living in the area than in practice we do, the compounded effect is serious.

It is a blessing, then, that we banked over £10.7m of savings by the end of the 2008/09 financial year. We now have at least £7.2m of repeatable savings and we are forecasting to increase this figure by a further £5m next year – but this hasn’t been an easy process.

Driving through the changes in our Children’s Services department has required a complete change of approach and new leadership to push forward a successful transformation programme, which in financial
terms has stopped the constant return to the centre for more money. Perhaps more importantly this work has started to improve the lives of our children with fewer children in care, an improvement in the processing times to bring new foster carers onto our books and the mapping of every child (and family) on our radar, how much we intervene and what steps can we take to reduce that intervention but retain our standards of safeguarding, care and support in the future.

I think every authority struggles sometimes with the scale of
children’s and adults services and certainly in Peterborough it has
been the opening up of transformation in this area that has unlocked
the Council as a whole – nowhere can really argue they have something
more difficult or more important to do than safeguarding our children.

Turning to the City’s growth agenda – well, not surprisingly, we have
been hit hard by the pull-out of some major developers (in particular
the house-builders) but we have seen this as an opportunity to perhaps
realise greater long term value for the council.

We are facing up to our responsibilities, at a time when the private
sector is unable to invest in the way we have become used to, to be
creating business partnerships with the commercial sector and taking a stake in the city’s future development. It costs us very little – only
the creative thought to prepare the operational, commercial and legal
frameworks required – and we will achieve long term stakes in the major development sites in our district on behalf of residents and taxpayers in return.

Our voice and the public voice becomes stronger and the retained value
of our assets increases significantly – far from selling the family
silver, we can acquire new assets which will in turn help deliver long
term revenue (and capital if we choose) to keep our operational
expenditure and therefore council tax low for the years to come.