It gave me great pleasure this week to see Westcombe Engineering given national recognition in this year’s Parliamentary Review
The Parliamentary Review showcases best practice that has been seen in the public and private sector in the past year.
Westcombe Engineering has given disabled people in Peterborough active employment opportunities since it launched in 1970 and is one of the city’s big innovation success stories.
For those of you not familiar with the company, it’s a precision engineering specialist with a difference. As well as creating machined components for a wide range of industries, it also equips disabled workers with the skills needed to pursue careers in the wider economy
To give some context to its success, Westcombe Engineering has seen sales over the last two years rise by 40 per cent and it has significantly expanded its customer base.
This council-owned business is a great example of what companies can achieve when they place corporate social responsibility at the heart of everything they do.
Rt Hon. David Curry (centre) with Andrew Lesiw and Elisa Bradley from Westcombe Engineering
Key to its success are its skilled, committed and loyal workforce, which gain as much from the business as what they bring to it. This two-way mutually beneficial relationship was something which was realised keenly by its founder, the late Royce W. Westcombe as the ideal business model and is why the business is being showcased as a national example of best practice.
At present it employs 20 people, 13 of which have disabilities, and it has a turnover in excess of £1.5 million.
This week we learnt the unwelcome news that Barnet Council has bought a number of homes in Peterborough to let and manage as temporary social housing for their homeless families.
As council leader this is immensely frustrating as it will place additional demands on our schools, health services and other resources. It will also lead to increased pressure on the the first-time buyers market.
What’s more, as Barnet Council bought the homes through its housing provider Barnet Homes, it has no legal obligation to tell us about its plans. And as yet it hasn’t – we only know of its intentions thanks to the Peterborough Telegraph.
Interestingly, we have since learnt that officers at the London borough did agree to forewarn and engage with us during a meeting in May to mitigate what they saw as a potentially unpopular decision. Unfortunately this never materialised.
The issue we face is that Peterborough is now seen as a low cost housing solution for many London Borough councils. Suitable homes in the city can be picked up at a fraction of the cost of a similar property in London.
Sadly, the trend for London Borough councils looking for cheaper temporary accommodation for its residents elsewhere is a national trend which shows no signs of slowing down.
This was something we were fearful of when the properties on St Michael’s Gate were bought by social housing provider Stef & Philips last year and one of the main reasons we agreed to lease the homes to use as temporary accommodation for our own residents in housing need. Although there were some people who disputed our prediction that another council would use these homes, the decision by Barnet points to the fact that our assumption was likely true.
We will now be contacting Barnet Council about its intentions, not least so we can start to plan for the extra residents this decision will create and the additional pressure on our services.
We will also be asking our MPs to raise the matter in Parliament, as a change in national legislation is the only way we can prevent other councils from using the city as a low cost option for its housing problems.
As leader of the council, it’s my role to listen to what residents want and where possible, to deliver initiatives that will benefit us all.
So, it was a pleasure last week to be able to announce a trial for free bulky waste collections around the city.
The three-month trial will begin later this autumn and during this period every home will be entitled to one free residential bulky waste collection of up to ten items free of charge.
It’s being launched in direct response to public concern about fly-tipping around the city. Households will be able to book a collection to be picked up by the council and disposed of to prevent it from becoming an eyesore on our streets.
Fly-tipping is a particular bug bear of mine, as it immediately detracts from the positive look and feel of an area, as well as causing a potential fire risk for nearby residents.
More information on the trial, including the start date, will be issued in the coming weeks so stay tuned.
Running alongside the trial will be a scheme where households can take additional waste to large freighter lorries positioned at different sites around the city.
These collections will be advertised locally and I hope that both initiatives will have a positive impact in keeping our streets clean and improving the environment of the areas in which we live.