Let’s have a fully informed debate about devolution

I wrote last week about devolution, and have been reflecting on my comments – particularly as some councils and councillors have become distracted by the notion of a directly elected Mayor,  rather than whether the offer presents a good deal for the city.

You might remember the Regional Development Agencies, set up under Labour, that were later abolished by the coalition government. Those agencies had no democratic control, and appointments were made by government to key roles within them, including Chairman. Many of the Councillors now complaining about a directly elected Mayor also complained about the lack of democracy in those agencies.

In the current scenario, a Mayor of a Combined Authority would be elected by residents in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. This Council keeps its sovereignty intact and has to consent to any of its powers being given to the Mayor. In the government’s offer, most of the Mayor’s proposed powers will come from government, as the term devolution implies.

Some have called for an extraordinary meeting. That is in the hands of the Mayor and our legal officer, as proper advice must be sought on whether a meeting can be held during the pre-election period known as purdah.

My plea is this. Let’s have a proper and fully informed debate about the offer from government, based on the facts.  Even more importantly, let’s allow Peterborough residents, business and all other vital Peterborough organisations to be consulted and have a say on whether or not this offer is right for the city.

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Consultation on devolution deal

Yesterday our region was mentioned as part of the Chancellor’s budget speech.

As some of you will be aware discussions between councils covering Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Norfolk and Suffolk have been taking place with government recently.

These talks have now resulted in a devolution deal for East Anglia from the government.

The offer is to transfer a number of powers and funding from central government so they can be decided locally. The government wants councils to form an East Anglia Combined Authority which would cover the areas just mentioned.

My decision to agree to debate this offer from government now allows every city councillor the opportunity to have their say on whether the proposed deal benefits the city and our residents.

It can only be right that a deal of this magnitude and importance is open to extensive public scrutiny so that we can listen to views from across our city before councillors decide if this is the right deal for Peterborough.

A public consultation will therefore be held and a final decision on whether we become part of a combined authority will be decided by Full Council – this is when every city councillor votes on the issue.

The government’s deal is worth more than one billion pounds of new money to support economic growth in East Anglia over the next 30 years. As well as new decision making powers for the region on issues such as investment in infrastructure, growth, house building, jobs and skills.

For Peterborough, the deal includes commitments from government to develop an independent university in Peterborough. You can read more by visiting our website.

Peterborough City Council would keep its sovereignty and continue to deliver a vast range of services as we do currently – even if we are part of a combined authority. 

I’m keen to hear as many views as possible from residents and businesses. So when we launch the consultation I would encourage you to take part and have your say.

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We are working on a skills strategy

When it comes to jobs and career opportunities, Peterborough is a great place to live. Around 100,000 people in the city are working full-time, unemployment is falling and the number of residents claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance is at its lowest level since 1992.

As the city grows, so too will the number of companies and the people they employ. That’s great news, but it’s very important not to be complacent.

The employment market is ever-changing, and to really benefit from jobs growth in the future we need to make sure local residents, especially our young people, have the right skills.

Recent research shows that by 2022 there will be a strong demand for people in professional roles and at manager and director level, and fewer roles for administrators, tradespeople and manual workers. The demand for degrees is likely to increase by almost 30 per cent, while those with a doctorate or masters could see demand for their knowledge grow by up to 74 per cent.

Meanwhile, those with no qualifications or low GCSE grades will find it increasingly challenging to find jobs.

That’s why we are working on a Skills Strategy to make sure that people in Peterborough have the right skills to be sought-after employees in the future.

We’re focusing on the core business sectors that make Peterborough their home, like engineering, food and drink, digital and creative, energy and environment, financial services and healthcare. The new Skills Strategy will be discussed at scrutiny next week.

We’ll be working with local employers to make sure they deliver training and apprenticeships, as well as with schools and colleges so that young people leave with the right skills to find and keep a great job locally.

Greater Peterborough University Technical College (GPUTC) will play a vital role in this when it opens in September, through its focus on specialist engineering skills.

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Civic hub to kickstart development

An important decision is set to be made next week which will help kick start the new city centre development at Fletton Quays. On Monday the cabinet is set to approve a proposal which will see the city council establish new office premises within the development.

The council would become the first tenant on this important city centre site. As is the way with these things, one organisation getting involved leads the way to more commitment.

It’s a great opportunity to secure the future of the wider £120million redevelopment, which is to include a hotel and 280 homes, and will refurbish some listed buildings – a collection of historic railway sheds.

It’s also a good move for the council. It would bring together all our people in a single location; one that is more energy efficient and less costly to run, too. It’s been on the cards for some time: we first voiced plans to do this back in 2014.

The overall business case (more information can be found on our website), which includes leasing our building at Bayard Place and office space within the Town Hall, means the move is set to generate £7.6million over a number years to help protect services.

All civic areas including rooms such as the Council Chamber and Mayor’s Parlour would still be used as they are today. The Town Hall will still be the democratic heart of the city.

This is an important move. Over the years the way the council works has changed, and we no longer employ as many people as we once did.  We’re modernising how we do things, supporting people to work more flexibly, and not necessarily at a desk. These new facilities will help, ultimately for the benefit of residents.

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