Aragon – coming to a street near you

This week we unveiled the name of our new trading company which will take over the running of key services from April, including bin collections.

In just over two weeks, you will see refuse lorries emblazoned with the name Aragon Direct Services down your street.

Bin collection schedules and services will remain the same and will continue to be delivered by the same team of frontline staff – there will be little obvious change other than the name.

Cllrs with Aragon Direct van

The difference will be seen in our ability to commercialise the service, so in effect making money by providing services for businesses and other organisations locally and further afield.

The council has constraints on how much profit it can make from commercial operations – this private limited company will allow us more freedom to trade and generate income to help ease the financial pressure that the council is under.

It will also give better value for money and offer more flexibility to our residents. For example, if we get a wet summer and we need to cut our grass more frequently, this can be arranged more easily than if through an outsourced contract.

Our cleaners transferred over to the new company in February and on 1 April they will be followed by the refuse collection team. Street cleaning, grounds and building maintenance services and specialist school transport will then follow in May*.

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Determined to keep community centres open

Since 2010 more than 500 community centres have closed nationally. In Peterborough that figure is zero.

It’s understandable when you consider the financial strain many councils, including our own, are under following unprecedented cuts in government funding and rising demand for services.

It would have been very easy for us to follow suit, however, we’ve taken a different approach to be able to protect these important community hubs and keep them open.

Our 48 council-owned community facilities have been successfully run by voluntary community organisations for many years.

We are now going one step further and transferring full responsibility for management and running of community centres from the council to community organisations under a Community Asset Transfer Scheme.

This will save the council considerable yearly running costs, at a time when every penny is needed to cope with rising demands in adults and children’s social care and to keep open vital services such as libraries, parks and open spaces.

The alternative would be to close them, something we have strived to avoid.

We faced a similar situation with our library service, where we needed to make a saving. We managed to keep every library in the city open, for longer hours, by introducing self serve technology.

We’re currently on the look-out for new management organisations for two of our community centres, Copeland in Bretton and Thistle Drive, in Stanground, as the current groups are no longer able to continue.

Copeland Community Centre back garden with swings
Copeland Community Centre

Each of the centres would need to be operated as a social enterprise by a constituted group who would be responsible for overall management and generating a profit sufficient to cover day to day running costs and on-going repairs and maintenance.

Anyone interested in taking over the running of Copeland or Thistle Drive, can find out more on the Bid for a community centre page on the council website.

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Sharing city’s secrets of success

Our city centre is a real source of pride for me. The work we’ve done in recent years has made it spacious and welcoming and I believe it’s never looked better.

The extensive transformation of Bridge Street through to Cathedral Square and Long Causeway has attracted significant new investment into the heart of our city.

We now have a vast array of new and attractive places for everyone to shop in, eat, have fun or just simply relax in.

And in case you’re thinking, ‘well, John would say that’ – it’s not just me who shares this view.

Last week, we received a phone call out of the blue from BBC Radio Kent, after its producer had visited Peterborough. He was thoroughly impressed with our city centre and described it as having a cafe culture look and feel, reminiscent of a European city.

cathedral square

He wanted us to talk on the radio station to share the secrets of our success, in the hope that these could be mirrored in Chatham.

Cabinet member councillor Marco Cereste spoke to the station on Monday about the work that we and our partners have done over the past decade to help revitalise the area.

He pointed out that ten years ago, the city centre would virtually shut down at 5pm and we have worked hard to inject some life into it after hours to attract more residents, visitors and businesses.

Not ones to be complacent, we’re currently in the process of setting up a Business Improvement District, which will help support and promote city centre shops.

All UK high streets have had a tough few years following the rise of online shopping, so please keep using them. For me, nothing beats browsing for an item in real life. (more…)

Commercial strategy is paying off

This month my Cabinet colleagues and I will be asked to approve the council’s first commercial strategy.

It doesn’t sound the most exciting document I admit, but it’s actually very important as it sets out how we’ll further generate income by selling our services, investing and operating more like a business.

With our government funding only going one way, we couldn’t deliver a balanced budget and provide the services our residents rely upon without generating the income we do.

Last year we made £72million through investments, sharing of services, providing services for other organisations, property rental and fees and charges.

For example, we generated £2.7million by selling the energy produced by our energy from waste plant and our commercial property portfolio which is worth £21million generates an annual income of around £3million – that’s a 14 per cent return.

We share our planning and trading standards departments with other councils, bringing in £4million annually and our £15million loan to Propiteer Hotels Ltd for the building of the new Hilton hotel at Fletton Quays will make us £500,000.

impression fletton quays

Our sharing of services with Cambridgeshire County Council, in particular the chief executive and her senior leadership team, has delivered sizeable savings.

I could go on, but these are just a few of the ways we’re generating income and working in a more commercial way to be able to provide the services you need, despite an 80 per cent cut in our government funding.

And with that funding due to decrease even further in years to come, we have got to find more ways of generating our own income. Our commercial strategy will help us to do that. (more…)

Starting to take back control

This week we celebrated a momentous occasion and welcomed the first staff to our new local authority trading company.

Just before Christmas we made the landmark decision to set up our own company, Peterborough Limited, which I like to call the ‘people’s company’. It will deliver services for residents that were previously provided by Amey.

Bringing services such as waste and recycling and building cleaning back in house gives us greater control over how these services are provided and allows us to better monitor them so that they can constantly improve. It also allows us to provide better value for money.

We’re not bringing all of the services and 449 employees back from Amey into Peterborough Limited in one go, we are doing it in a phased approach to ensure that the best quality of service is maintained.

Building cleaning moved across on Monday and I was delighted to meet some of the staff at the Town Hall. They were all really excited about moving back to the council and the plans that we have to develop these services.

John meets Latco

Waste and recycling collections and passenger transport will transfer on 1 April, followed by building maintenance, street cleansing and grounds maintenance on 4 May.

For residents there will be little obvious change, but we will be striving to ensure that all the services we provide are of the highest quality so that our city is clean and well maintained.

We will also be looking to commercialise the services that we provide, to add to the growing number of ways we are generating income to support our budget. I’ll be able to tell you more about that in the coming months. (more…)

A university is closer than ever

Anyone who knows me will tell you how committed I am to seeing a fully fledged-university in Peterborough.

It’s the single biggest thing we can do to stop our talented young people from leaving to build their lives elsewhere and ensures that our businesses have a good crop of people with the skills and talent they need to apply for jobs.

We’re closer than ever to there being a dedicated Peterborough University. University Centre Peterborough (UCP) is continuing to work towards gaining degree awarding powers and research is ongoing into the type of courses which will meet the needs of students and businesses. An appraisal is also underway of the Bishop’s Road site where the development of a new campus for up to 2,000 students is proposed.

pboro uni

Developing an independent university is an exciting but complex process and although I would like it to happen tomorrow, it takes time to achieve.

In the meantime, the number of people studying degrees in the city is increasing year on year, with double the number of young people from our schools starting a degree with UCP in 2018 compared to the year before. That’s fantastic news and proof that more of our young people are improving their career options.

I was also impressed to hear that more than 250 students graduated last year with good numbers achieving the higher grades. Eighty-eight per cent of integrated engineering students and 57 per cent of sociology students achieved a first class honours, which is fantastic.

The undergraduate provision at UCP has also continued to grow with the launch of new degrees in digital arts, digital marketing, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical and manufacturing engineering and five new business management degrees.

Having a fully-fledged university will result in significant economic benefits for the whole city, and at the rate we’re progressing, it may not be that far into the future that we achieve it.

Click here for more information about the degree courses available in Peterborough.
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Bringing Peterborough’s communities together

Our city is built on a long history of migration. We are diverse, vibrant and proud to celebrate our differences as together these are the things that unites us.

Because of this, we are a welcoming city and on the whole I think that people from different backgrounds get on well together. You only have to attend one of the many cultural festivals we host in the city each year, such as the Italian or Diwali events, to see that. But of course there is more we can all do to bring people together to break down barriers.

John and Barbara Holdich in traditional dress

Last year we were recognised for our community work by the government, who invited Peterborough to be one of five areas to take part in its integrated communities strategy, to improve and showcase successful integration across the UK.

As part of this, we’ve just launched the Peterborough Communities Fund which is an opportunity for people to make a real difference in their community.

Local groups and organisations can apply for funds to deliver projects that bring our communities together, whatever their background, race or religion.

People can apply for grants of up to £20,000 – but we’re equally happy if you just need a few hundred pounds; we know that often just a small amount of funding can make a huge difference.

Applications are invited from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors and we also welcome joint bids from groups who want to bring communities together. Ideas that have the potential to run and run are particularly welcome. (more…)

Peterborough’s people’s company is progressing 

Following the landmark decision taken by our cabinet in December, we are on track to set up our first Local Authority Trading Company.

This signals a major new direction for delivering many council services and will be a ‘people’s company’ improving the services we provide for residents and businesses across the city.

We are now working with staff to deliver a new company that invests in them and the services we provide.

The transfer of services will follow a phased approach: First to launch is building cleaning, then passenger transport and waste and recycling collections in April. Finally, building maintenance, street cleansing and grounds maintenance in May.

bin lorry

This will help to manage the complexity and scale of the task which involves the transferring of 449 employees, and all the assets and vehicles associated with these services. It will ensure a smooth transfer and minimal disruption for residents. (more…)

Help to end loneliness epidemic

Have you ever experienced loneliness? I’m not talking about occasionally on an afternoon, but weeks, or even months and years of craving human contact.

There’s been much in the media recently about a national ‘loneliness epidemic,’ but one article in the Daily Telegraph in particular caught my attention last month, in which the new Loneliness Minister, MP Mims Davies says communities have a moral duty to look after the lonely and vulnerable.

As a council, there’s things we can do to help this. Indeed, I helped to set up one of the first friendship clubs in Peterborough 16 years ago in my ward of Glinton and allocated £10,000 to replicate this across the city.

There are now 11 friendship clubs in Peterborough which meet every week to offer company, home-cooked meals, information and advice on everything from setting up a Facebook account to Skyping friends and family.

But there’s also a lot that you as an individual can do too – and for those of you who haven’t set a New Year’s resolution yet, this is a good one!

Studies by the Mental Health Foundation show that volunteering and doing good for others can actually be beneficial to our own wellbeing.

There are over 197,000 people living in Peterborough. If just 0.1% of us decided to volunteer a couple of hours a week to help the lonely and vulnerable in our city, that would be nearly 200 extra volunteers across Peterborough.

The Age UK friendship clubs are looking for volunteers right now. Contact them on 01733 352212 or email friendshipclubs@ageukcap.org.uk.

Ladies at Friendship Club

If you haven’t got time to make a commitment as a volunteer, then just take five minutes to knock on the door of an elderly neighbour, family member or friend. Check they are okay and to ask if there is anything they need. Human contact means so much to those who are lonely at this time of year.

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So much achieved over past year

Let me start off by wishing you all a happy new year.

Early January is a great time for reflection and setting new goals or resolutions for the year ahead.

With that in mind, I thought I’d use this column to look back over the past 12 months.

The past year really has flown by, and I think that’s a sure sign that we’ve got on with business and achieved many of our goals.

One of my proudest moments of 2018 was seeing the opening of the council’s new office building at Fletton Quays.

Cutting cake at opening ceremony

Sand Martin House is a fantastic modern facility, which fully feels like home now to the many staff who moved across there in the late summer and autumn.

Fletton Quays continues to develop at pace, with building work continuing on high quality apartments, a Hilton Garden Inn hotel, leisure and retail offerings.

It’s on schedule to be finished in 2020 and once complete will show everyone that Peterborough is ready for business and investment.

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