Fining flytippers and stamping out scammers

When you travel around the country you realise there are some issues that affect every town and city.

Flytipping is one of those issues. No matter where you live, it seems that a small minority of people find it acceptable to dispose of their waste illegally.

On Monday I chaired a cabinet meeting where members discussed a report by a cross-party task and finish group which I set up to investigate and make recommendations on how we might reduce flytipping.

Councillors who sit on the group presented their recommendations, which included expanding the bulky waste collection service to allow one free collection of up to five items per household per annum, reviewing the Household Recycling Centre’s opening times and for a proposal to be worked up which allows commercial waste to be disposed of at the recycling centre for a charge.

When you consider that two thirds of fly-tipping comes from households, it’s clear that we also need to do more to educate residents of their responsibility when it comes to disposing of their waste – a further recommendation of the task and finish group.

This week a new campaign has been launched by RECAP, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Waste Partnership, which urges people to make sure their waste is being taken away by a registered waste carrier, to a suitably licenced disposal site.

If you pay someone to take waste away on your behalf, check that they have a waste carrier’s licence and you can also check the company on the Environment Agency’s website before using them. Be aware, if someone flytips your waste, you as well as the person who flytips, could be landed with a hefty fine.

The vast majority of our residents are clearly using the facilities that are available. The Household Recycling Centre has proved a huge success since it opened in February, with 170 tonnes of additional recycling deposited there since February, compared to the same period the year before. The knock on effect is that there is 200 tonnes less residual waste being deposited.

Leader opening recycling centre

The recommendations that have been made by our cross-party working group are not a panacea, but they are a step in the right direction to reducing levels of flytipping and the money the council spends each year clearing it up – currently in the region of £200,000.

That’s money we can better spend providing care for the elderly, supporting children in need, creating housing and providing the many other services that our residents need. (more…)

Concerns raised as schools battle budget cuts

There’s not a day that goes by when we don’t hear about a council, school, police force or health service struggling to make ends meet.

Just recently there’s been a national focus on schools with reports of headteachers having to make difficult decisions, such as finishing the school day early, making teachers redundant and cutting spending on books.

Nationally the pressure on schools is starting to show and Peterborough is no different. Across the country around 60 per cent of schools are said to be in that difficult situation of spending more than their income. Pupil numbers have increased by ten per cent since 2010 whilst teacher numbers have remained largely the same.

In Peterborough, there has been government investment in education in recent years, but significant cost pressures and a sizeable increase in pupil numbers mean that in real terms schools are managing on a reduced budget. Between 2010 and 2018 our pupil numbers have increased by 26 per cent since, that’s 7,892 extra pupils.

Schools have done a tremendous job despite the pressures and have kept a close eye on the financial situation, meaning that pupils here have not experienced some of the changes we have seen taking place elsewhere. But headteachers and governing bodies may not be far away from having to take more drastic action such as this if the government does not provide better financial support. 

Recently we wrote to every headteacher in the city to assess the level of impact that funding cuts have had on schools. About 75 per cent of schools have responded and some of the things they are telling us is that they are increasing class sizes, cutting certain subjects from the curriculum such as drama, using apprentices to cover roles and reducing the number of teaching assistants. There are also cases of headteachers teaching classes when there are not enough teachers to cover and some of our schools are sharing equipment such as lawnmowers.

These examples make it clear that we are following the same path as other parts of the country where schools have had to take more drastic action such as making teachers redundant. It the funding situation is not addressed, it could impact our children’s education as well as their future prospects.

Councillor Lynne Ayres, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, education, skills and university, will now be using the responses from headteachers to write a letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds MP to demand a meeting with him and his officials to make him aware of the very serious situation in Peterborough and the need for additional funding for schools.

Let’s hope he takes the situation seriously, not just in Peterborough, but across the country as a whole.

(more…)

Advancements in affordable housing

You may have seen in the media at the weekend that young adults are half as likely to own a home now as they were 20 years ago.

The claim was made by the Local Government Association in a report titled Understanding the Local Housing Market, which warns that many young people face renting into retirement as high rents hinder their ability to save.

It is a problem, which is why we work closely with housing associations and home builders to achieve a good mix of new housing in the city, including affordable homes to buy and rent.

In the past five years 5,328 new homes have been completed in Peterborough, with 1,074 of these affordable. Housing associations have provided an additional 150 homes for affordable ownership and rent, with a further 252 anticipated in the current financial year.

Only last week Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority approved funding of £1.2 million to acquire a 5.1 acre site in the north of the city for around 60 homes, with 30 per cent of these affordable.

The combined authority has also agreed funding of £735,000 to convert 21 new homes from open market sale to affordable rent at Belle Vue in Stanground. It’s the second site to be developed by Medesham Homes, the joint venture partnership between the council and Cross Keys Homes.

In May, the city council agreed to provide almost £6.2million to Medesham Homes, funded from Right to Buy receipts, to deliver 35 new affordable homes at Eye Green.

These projects are all really encouraging and are part of a long term plan to deliver homes across the city for everyone, whether it’s for the private sector, social rent, shared ownership or private rental.

The city council has also invested £10million for the purchase of homes off the open market for use as temporary accommodation for families who are homeless and awaiting permanent re-housing. So far we’ve purchased 51 properties and anticipate being able to buy a further eight.

Our city continues to grow faster than many other parts of the country with significant levels of growth and housing experienced in the past ten years. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of this slowing down, so it’s important that our efforts to create new housing don’t either.

Continuing the A47 dualling campaign

Last week I attended a reception at Parliament hosted by Brandon Lewis MP, along with the Mayor of Cambridgeshire James Palmer and businessman Rob Facer of Barnack Construction, to support the campaign to dual the A47 between Peterborough and Lowestoft.

This road joins the city with the east coast and is of national strategic importance, linking the Midlands with Eastern seaports and acts as an economic artery that runs through Peterborough.

At the meeting I made sure I represented Peterborough’s interests and explained that dualling the sections on our patch would bring huge benefits, reducing journey times and congestion and supporting our vision to see more local economic growth.

Future road proposals

In further good news, the combined authority has agreed to include two Peterborough road schemes on its list of priorities. This list is then shared with the government for a decision on funding.

The two projects are access to the new university site on The Embankment and linking the A47 better with Eastern Industry, taking the pressure off Eye and Parnwell.

Congratulations to Safer Off the Streets!

The city’s Safer Off the Streets partnership is celebrating this week after winning a regional award at the Britain and Ireland Awards, organised by Premier Christian Radio.

The partnership, which scooped the ‘Best Start-Up’ category, helps on average two rough sleepers to leave the streets a month since it began in October last year and has raised a whopping £8,000 for charity.

SOS receiving their award

I know many of you, myself included, have donated money either online or via the contactless card reader in St Peter’s Arcade, the money goes towards the running of the Garden House in the cathedral grounds.

The Garden House is run by the Light Project Peterborough – which also won an award – and does a fantastic job of creating a welcoming environment for rough sleepers thanks to its kind-hearted volunteers.

Another of the scheme’s partners, Care Zone, which operates out of Kingsgate Community Church, also won an award at the ceremony, which is a great achievement.

I’d like to say a massive well done to all those involved in the Safer Off the Streets partnership and to the Light Project for their efforts over the past nine months. Next stop is the national awards, let’s put Peterborough on the map for the right reasons!

Council newsletter

Finally, did you know the council now sends a e-newsletter to residents every week? It includes a link to my blog and other important news about the council. You can sign up at www.peterborough.gov.uk.

Adult Education on the rise

If you’re a regular reader of this column you will know how important it is to me that we are able to offer children the best possible education. I know it’s a cliche, but the future of our city, and our world for that matter, is in their hands.

But education isn’t just for the young, it’s just as important that we offer the chance for people of all ages to widen their skills to increase the opportunities available to them and to support employers who need people with the skills and qualifications to fill roles.

If you think of adult education, what may spring to mind is people taking classes to learn new hobbies or brushing up on a foreign language ahead of a trip abroad. Such courses are only part of the overall offering.

The £11.5 million budget for adult education in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough was this year devolved from central Government to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, providing the ability to deliver something much more ambitious.

As chairman of the combined authority’s Skills Committee, I can vouch for the hard work that has gone in to rethinking how we spend that money.

We know in Peterborough there are people who cannot apply for some jobs because they don’t have the right skills. Equally, we have many businesses which struggle to find people with the right skills. Adult education is the answer to both these problems.

The combined authority is working with learning providers to use adult education funding to target the 13.6 per cent of the Peterborough population that currently have no qualifications. 

By giving low-skilled, low-paid working adults training, they will be able to use this learning to secure better paying and more stable jobs. 

Integral to this is working with employers to see what kinds of skills they need from our population. So in Peterborough, adult education will offer courses in logistics, warehousing and storage. There will be courses in the health and care sector, including adult social care, and broader courses in business skills as well as qualifications in English and mathematics.

We are also asking learning providers to be more flexible, offering courses in the evenings or part-time so that they are open to all.

Adult education for leisure and pleasure should not be underestimated. It brings enjoyment, social interaction and keeps minds active.

But a shifting of the focus to what happens to learners as a result of their course will provide better balance to how we spend money on adult education.

The potential is vast, and if we get this right, we are in a strong position to secure even more funding from Government to help even more people gain skills and qualifications. 

The implementation of this across Peterborough and Cambridgeshire will come later this summer, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the results. (more…)

New schools and new starts

This September hundreds of children will start school for the first time and many more will make the jump from primary to secondary.

As one of the fastest growing cities in the country, not least because we have one of the highest birth rates, we’ve once again faced huge pressure to meet a rising demand for school places.

In fact, as of the national offer days in April and May, we had offered 5,580 children a school place for September – that’s 132 more than last year.

Despite the increase, we were still able to provide the vast majority of children their first place school – 90.4 per cent for primary applications and 85.6 per cent for secondary – with 97 per cent offered one of their three preferred schools.

We’re able to achieve this success because of careful planning by our school admissions team and of course the investment we have made in schools in recent years – and continue to make – to increase the number of places.

We’ve extended and rebuilt schools across the city and new schools have opened in Cardea and Hampton in recent years so we can continue meeting the needs of our growing population.

Only last week the government announced it had approved applications for two new schools in PeterboroughManor Drive Academy at Paston Reserve which we’re progressing with the 4Cs Academy Trust, and a new Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided primary school at Hampton Waters. Both schools are targeted for opening in 2022, subject to further discussion with the Department for Education. It was really good news and a credit to those who worked on the applications when you consider that only 18 per cent of bids for funding were successful and we had two!

In 2017 the government also agreed to fund a new primary school at Paston Reserve. This along with the secondary school will cost in the region of £32million – money we would have to find if our bid had proved unsuccessful.

With demand for school places only going one way, we continue to plan to meet future demand.

Work starts on site at a new primary school at Hampton Lakes early next month – again funded by the government. Other projects are due to conclude over the summer, including extensions of Jack Hunt School to include a new classroom block and dining facility, Oakdale Primary in Stanground and Woodston Primary.

Regardless of the significant pressures on our budget, meeting the demand for school places is one pressure that we will always have to meet. And that’s not just because we have a legal duty to do so, but because the future success of our city is founded on the youngsters of today being offered a high standard of education in buildings that allow them to reach their full potential. (more…)

Celebrating the Year of Reading

Reading is one of the most important skills that you can teach a child and will define how well they achieve educationally and throughout their whole lives.

Barbara and I would read to our children every day when they were young until they were old enough to read for themselves. Even then we would encourage them by buying books and taking them to the library, which I do now with my grandchildren.

The other morning on my way into work I listened to a report on the radio about the level of disadvantage experienced by a child at school if they have not been read to from a young age. Many of them will struggle more than children who have experience of reading and may never make up this delay in their learning.

In Peterborough reading levels are lower than the national average. I want that to change, and quickly, so that every child in the city has the same opportunities to share a love of reading. That is why we launched Vision for Reading last year with our partners at the National Literacy Trust, Vivacity and City College Peterborough.

The campaign asks everyone in the city – teachers, parents, businesses and others – to play their part in helping children to develop a lifelong love of reading which in turn will improve their life chances.

Boys reading books

As part of it we’re supporting parents to prepare their children for school by, for example, reading to them at home, we’re training reading buddies in schools who can read with children and we’re celebrating the Year of Reading which launches on 22 June.

Everyone is invited to attend the launch in Cathedral Square between 10am and 4pm where there will be storytelling, free books to take home, activities and more.

The event kicks off a year-long programme of events that will include The Space Chase summer reading challenge, Roald Dahl Day in September, writing competitions and story trails. You can find out more by visiting www.peterboroughcelebrates.org.uk.

The year will culminate with a striking trail of book-shaped benches across Peterborough created by schools, community groups and businesses in association with creative producers Wild in Art.

Whether you’re a parent, business owner, or teacher, please support our campaign to get every child in the city enjoying books from a young age. For our children it will lead to improved life chances and for our businesses it will mean a better qualified workforce of the future.

Raising reading levels will always be harder for us in Peterborough than for many other areas because of the number of different languages spoken in our schools and a higher than usual number of children starting and leaving school mid-year.

But it is a challenge that we must meet and together I believe that we can. (more…)

All in dual course – the roads to Peterborough’s success

One of the many aspects that makes Peterborough a great place to do business is our fantastic road system and proximity to cities such as London and Birmingham and the east coast ports.

It’s essential for businesses to have this kind of connectivity and it’s also important that our residents are able to get to work, school and go about their daily lives without being sat in congestion, whether travelling by car, bike or bus.

That is why we have spent millions of pounds in recent years upgrading our road network so that people can navigate our city with relative ease and why we are planning our transport system of the future.

I’m not saying we are congestion free, in this day and age with the number of vehicles on our roads that’s impossible, but at peak times you can travel from one end of our city to the other relatively quickly when compared to the likes of Cambridge and Coventry. At peak times I can get into Peterborough city centre from my home in Glinton within 20 minutes.

In recent years we’ve increased capacity at a number of locations, including the Fletton Parkway, junction 20 of the A47 with the A15 and junction 5 of the Frank Perkins parkway at Boongate. We’re currently working on the A15/A47 junction 18 to add an additional lane, road crossings, and to strengthen and repair the footbridge.

The Leader stands with colleagues on Rhubarb Bridge

Without these investments in our roads and crossings the city could not have grown the way it has in recent years, which has brought with it additional investment, jobs and housing.

Later this month I will be attending a reception at Parliament hosted by Brandon Lewis MP to support the campaign to dual another important route for our city, the A47 to Lowestoft.

This road joins the city with the east coast and is of national strategic importance, linking the Midlands with Eastern seaports and acts as an economic artery that runs through Peterborough.

Dualling the remaining sections would bring huge benefits, reducing journey times and congestion and supporting our vision to see more local economic growth.

This is just one of the projects we are supporting and leading to plan our transport system for the future to ensure our roads, bridges and crossings can cope with increasing levels of demand.

As part of this we are considering the possibility of having a rapid transport system here, such as underground or overground light rail, if the money was available to do so. This isn’t something we need now, but it might be in the future as the city continues to grow and develop.

We also have funding from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to investigate the potential for a number of other improvements including the Nene Parkway junction 15, dualling a short section of the A16 to unlock the Norwood development and a series of improvements to support the university on the Embankment.

If these schemes are recommended, we will then look to secure funding to make them happen, so that Peterborough can remain one of the easier to navigate cities in the UK. (more…)

All eyes on Peterborough as by-election approaches

With the by-election for the Peterborough parliamentary seat taking place next Thursday the national spotlight is firmly on our great city.

So it’s no surprise that I’m taking calls from national journalists, who being London-centric, want to find out more about Peterborough and have looked to me to enlighten them.

And I have enjoyed doing so as it’s allowed me to promote our city on a national stage and to show what a great place it is to start or relocate a business or family, or to visit for a day trip or an overnight stay.

If I had a pound for every time someone told me they visited the city ten years ago and how much it has changed for the better in that time I would be a rich man. But the reality is that it has.

Our city centre has been transformed, with new and regenerated areas for people to sit and watch the world go by, new shops and restaurants. On a sunny day, like we had last week, Cathedral Square comes alive and with the iconic cathedral and the Guild Hall too it’s a fantastic place to spend time. The redevelopment of Fletton Quays, one of the most prestigious riverside developments in the country, is on target and there are firm plans in place to transform North Westgate.

Cathedral square

We have new businesses launching and expanding all the time creating. In 2017/18, the latest figures we have, 4,575 new jobs were created in the city, meaning our unemployment rate is below the national average.

We are supporting house building in every quarter of the city to give us enough homes of every kind to support our residents and those wanting to move here. We’ve rebuilt or expanded every secondary school in the city.

Our road and rail links mean that we are well connected to London, Birmingham, many of the airports – you can now commute to London within 39 minutes.

Of course, growth on the scale we are seeing brings its challenges – it is these challenges that many of the candidates standing in the by-election next week are mentioning on the doorstep.

Many of these issues – poverty, not enough housing for those in need to name just two, could all be helped if we received a proper level of funding from government.

We are having to do so much more with less money – as the fifth fastest growing city in the country with the sixth highest birth rate, that’s no small task.

But as I said in last week’s column, we will continue to keep a close eye on the areas where we know our residents say they need us the most, ensuring that our most vulnerable residents are protected and supported, but also ensuring that our city provides everyone with the opportunity to achieve their goals.

Whoever wins the Peterborough by-election and represents half of our city in Parliament, we need them to understand the huge financial challenges that we face and how they can support us in campaigning for additional funding.

So when you are voting next week, think not about the party the person represents, but about the person that is best for Peterborough and building a better future.

(more…)

Introducing the new Cabinet for Peterborough

Well, our Annual General meeting of Council is over for another year and, as Leader of the Council, I have appointed my Cabinet, who I would like to introduce to you.

I have discussed over the last year the significant financial challenges we face, probably the most testing in the living memory of local government. I have also set out priorities for the Council, which you have told us are important such as fly-tipping, keeping our streets clean, tackling homelessness, looking after vulnerable children and older people and building a strong economy. The Cabinet and I are determined to work timelessly to deliver these priorities for you and so without further ado, here they are! (more…)

Mental Health Week – Awareness and Support

There’s been lots in the news this week about mental health awareness and how we can all help people who might be suffering in silence.

As leader of the council I see examples all the time of the impact mental health problems can have on people’s lives, so I’m always pleased to see the issue being highlighted.

For example, our housing needs team regularly come into contact with people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness because their lives have been affected by mental health problems. Without support this can lead to relationship issues.

Our social workers support young people who are struggling to achieve their full potential, residents who are finding it hard to be good parents and adults who are struggling to lead independent lives. These challenges can often be a result of mental health problems.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the importance of talking about mental health is being emphasised – how listening cannot be underestimated, and how each and every one of us has the power to make a difference to someone’s life.

What always concerns me is that it is often not obvious when someone is suffering, in the way it is with a physical disability.

Many years ago I had an uncle who was affected by the war and his mental health suffered as a result. There was no support for him and he was never fully recovered.

Back then no one knew what to do – we didn’t even know what to call it. As a result, my uncle was partly ostracised, not because people didn’t care, but because they felt uncomfortable around him. On the rare occasions that anyone did talk about what had happened, my uncle was described as having ‘had a funny turn after the war’.

In the decades that passed, I’ve seen a shift in how people with stress, PTSD, anxiety and depression are treated. The fact these conditions now have names and people feel comfortable talking about them in their homes, the media and on the street shows you how far we have come. (more…)