Peterborough’s smart city programme has been suspended due to funding challenges.
The Future Peterborough initiative, launched in 2012 and delivered by economic development agency Opportunity Peterborough in partnership with Peterborough City Council, gained a reputation for punching above its weight. It was selected as one of four UK Future City Demonstrators in 2013 and in 2015, the mid-sized city saw off competition from Moscow, Dubai and Buenos Aires to win the World Smart City award at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona.
In 2017, Peterborough was named as one of the top ten smart cities in the UK by Navigant Research (now named Guidehouse Insights).
The programme had a particular focus on the circular economy as well as digital innovation and skills.
The Share Peterborough website was shut down at the end of November and a note on the Opportunity Peterborough website said Future Peterborough project activity is “on hold”.
Tom Hennessy, Chief Executive of Opportunity Peterborough, told capitaltribunenews.com: “Due to funding challenges, we had to make the very tough decision to suspend activity on the Future Peterborough programme, including the Share Peterborough website.
“We had hoped to continue the team’s vital work via grant funding. However, due to delays in the award of funds, this has not been possible.
“Embedding sustainability into our region’s economy is vital for our long-term growth and Opportunity Peterborough will continue to champion smart approaches to low-carbon and circular economy concepts within active projects and ongoing work with local businesses. Should funding become available we will not hesitate to activate this programme again.”
Peterborough’s finances have come under significant pressure recently and the council faces a £26 million (US$34 million) budget gap for 2022/23. It already applied for additional government funding earlier this year, with permission granted to borrow £4.8 million in early 2021 and up to £20 million for the next financial year.
The council said that for the past decade, it has been operating “within an extremely challenging financial position,” with funding from the government and sources such as council tax and business rates “now insufficient to meet the demand for services from a growing city of now more than 202,000 residents.”
The city said it had typically balanced its finances each year by increasing commercial income, making savings, driving down costs and taking advice from external experts, but that the pandemic had made it impossible to implement planned budget-balancing measures and savings in full.
A December 1 report in local newspaper Peterborough Matters said that the council has put an immediate stop on spending on anything but essential statutory services.
A first phase of proposals for the 2022/23 budget identify almost £10 million in savings. These include cutting back on street cleaning, stopping spring and summer planting in the council’s parks and open spaces, selling a hydrotherapy pool and expecting Opportunity Peterborough to become more self-sufficient.
The council contributes £140,000 each year to Opportunity Peterborough and is proposing to reduce this to £65,000 in 2022/23 and zero by 2023/24. This phased approach aims to allow Opportunity Peterborough time to develop other sources of income such as sponsorship and grant funding.
Image: Immanuel Giel/Wikimedia Commons
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