Happy New Year – here’s to a prosperous 2020

The start of a new year often leaves people with feelings of excitement and trepidation of what the year may hold.

That’s certainly how I feel about 2020. There is so much to look forward to in the year ahead for our great city, but like all councils we are still in the midst of one of the most testing financial challenges in our history. This will continue to force difficult decisions about how we provide the services our residents need with the money available.

But I would like to start the year on a positive and when you look around the city there are lots of those.

We have some really exciting developments taking place; there will be announcements about progress on some of these soon and about new developments.

Fletton Quays has been transformed during the past couple of years and there will be further progress in 2020.

a view of fletton quays

Plans for the gin and whiskey distillery and tourist attraction will be submitted in the first part of this year and construction of the Hilton hotel and skybar will begin soon. It has also been confirmed that Fletton Quays will also host a government hub, bringing together 1,000 staff from 2021. I call that a huge vote of confidence in our city!

Across the wider city centre, there will be some exciting news about the potential development of sites in our City Centre Prospectus. This includes the station quarter, university site on the embankment and Northminster car park and the area around it including the market. This unlocks the potential for exciting opportunities such as major multi-use commercial sport/leisure facilities to be developed.

When you consider that the cost of land in Peterborough is a third of the price of land in London, we should be a prime location for businesses moving out of the capital. The costs of doing business are much more competitive here and our Masterplan looks to capitalise on that.

I’m also excited this year to see our university project progress. We expect to submit a planning application for the new building in the spring, around the same time we’ll be announcing our academic partner, and then work on site begins in the autumn.

Major music acts coming to Peterborough in 2020

On a lighter note, we have some fantastic music acts coming to Peterborough. My family and I have tickets to see Westlife in June and Little Mix will be on stage a week or so later. I’ve heard rumours too of a third concert this summer!

And of course I am looking forward to the 2020 Olympic games and the Euro football tournament.

It is true that we have another testing year ahead of us financially, but there is much to look forward to. The time is now for Peterborough and we are ready to take the city to the next level.

Call for fly-tippers to be given harsher penalties

I was pleased to read that the Local Government Association is calling for tougher sentences to deter fly-tippers.

The LGA found that only five per cent of court-imposed fines for fly-tipping offences in England in the past six years were above £1,000 and only a sixth of them above £500.

We’re determined to crack down on fly-tipping and littering and it will remain one of our priorities when our in-house team to tackle environmental issues and crimes takes over from Kingdom at the end of the month. This new team will tackle problems across the whole council area, as well as the city centre.

We want to work with the government on reviewing sentencing guidelines for fly-tipping, so offenders are given bigger fines for more serious offences. We know from previous experience that we can influence change – a good example being how our councillors visited the Home Office to ask for more help in moving unlawful encampments on if they are having a detrimental impact on the wider community.

Thanks to our lobbying the government has set up a formal review group to see whether police powers can be strengthened to allow unlawful encampments to be moved on much quicker.

Relocation of Visitor Information Centre

And finally, a reminder that the Visitor Information Centre on Bridge Street has now closed.

the former visitor information centre

Instead, visitors to the city are guided towards the Town Hall and those wanting to access services such as blue badge applications and bus passes will need to walk just a few footsteps to the Customer Contact Centre.

Remember that you can find out more about all the events happening in Peterborough, as well as places to visit and stay, at www.visitpeterborough.com.

A happy new year, I hope 2020 is a healthy and happy year for you all.

Westcombe Engineering celebrated by city

Walking through the city centre yesterday, I met a resident I hadn’t seen for a long time who had spotted a video on our Facebook page about Westcombe Engineering.

Although she had lived in our city for most of her life, she wasn’t aware of just how much this social enterprise delivers back to our city, particularly in terms of its employment of disabled workers.

So, let me tell you a little about it – founded in 1970, Westcombe Engineering was set up to provide permanent employment and work experience for disabled people. All profits are reinvested back into the business and the local economy, with the aim of increasing the life chances of those living in Peterborough.

When it was set up, many expected it to only last a few years or so. However, nearly 50 years later the business has just announced an impressive 60 per cent growth in the last three years, led by its ability to diversify beyond its traditional diesel engine components market into new areas.

On top of this, it also won a regional business award for manufacturing in the last 12 months and in 2017, was included in the Parliamentary Review Publication, cited as a best practice example in the manufacturing industry.

Westcombe Engineering was always light years ahead of its time, but I don’t think even its founder would have predicted the global public demand for businesses to care more about their workforce, their community and increasingly their environment.

westcombe engineers

The video that went out on Facebook this week – which can be found on our Peterborough City Council channel – celebrated the business and its workers. It tells the story of among others, Darren who caught chicken pox as a child and had to have a section of his brain removed. Thanks to Westcombe, Darren is able to earn his own money and has his independence, which he is proud to say has given his life purpose.

If you haven’t seen the video it’s well worth a watch and if you have, please share it with someone else in our city. Westcombe is a credit to our community and has changed the lives of so many skilled and talented disabled people and their families. (more…)

Peterborough offers support to former Thomas Cook employees

We all knew that city-based travel firm Thomas Cook was struggling when it shed jobs and closed stores earlier in the year, but I don’t think any of us thought that the 175-year-old travel industry brand was on the brink of collapse.

I feel greatly for the staff members and their families at this difficult time, and of course customers too who are either looking to get home or have seen their holiday plans scuppered. This will have an impact as well of course on the wider city and those companies that provided services to Thomas Cook.

We will be doing all that we can to support affected staff members, signposting them to other jobs and places where they can get help and support. There will be a jobs fair at the Town Hall next Wednesday (2 October) organised by our colleagues at Opportunity Peterborough specifically for the Thomas Cook staff. Any companies interested in taking part should email info@opportunitypeterborough.co.uk or call 01733 317417.

I am confident that many of those people who have lost their jobs will have transferable skills and will be an asset to other companies in our city. They are in a good position to find new employment – our economy is strong, there are jobs available and businesses are continuing to choose to invest in Peterborough.

Each year on average we see in the region of 2,500 new jobs created and there are hundreds of new businesses launching every year. As a result, our unemployment rate is below the national average.

You only have to read this newspaper to see that businesses are moving to Peterborough and want to invest in our city. The Construction Industry Training Board is relocating to the top floor of the council offices at Sand Martin House, creating 200 jobs and extra income for our budget too which we will be using to provide services for residents. There are plans for a new supermarket at the former Toys R Us store and in August, Big Motoring World announced a £5 million move to the city, generating more than 300 jobs. Add to that the countless smaller businesses that are moving to larger premises and increasing their headcount.

This week Queensgate released further details about its £60million extension which will include a ten-screen Empire cinema and new restaurants and shops. Work will begin early next year and once completed will create hundreds of new jobs across the cinema, restaurants and shops.

Not only that, it will be a great asset for our city and its nightlife and will mean more footfall for retailers, more things to do for visitors and retail opportunities for residents. At a time when other city centres are struggling, Peterborough is bucking the trend. 

Our local economy is strong and we have  lots of new job opportunities appearing each day and even more on the horizon. I hope this gives the former workers of Thomas Cook some comfort as they begin looking for employment in the coming weeks. (more…)

Fast times ahead for Peterborough’s Station Quarter

Every so often I speak to people who have returned to visit the city centre after some time away and their reaction often pleases me.

It proves that the work we have done to regenerate our city centre has been worthwhile, with new life breathed into Cathedral Square, St John’s Square, Long Causeway, Bridge Street and many other parts which has in turn attracted new shops, restaurants and businesses. We’ve also unlocked the economic potential of key sites such as Fletton Quays in order to make them attractive to private investors.

As a result we have more people visiting Peterborough than ever before, more jobs being created and greater investment overall in our city.

Our work is not yet done – on Monday the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s business board agreed to fund a masterplan and feasibility study for an exciting re-development of the Station Quarter.

The railway station and the land around it is the first impression of our city for thousands of people visiting or passing through, so it’s important that it looks the part and connects well with the rest of the city centre.

peterborough railway station

If approved by the main board next week, the combined authority would fund around half the cost of completing a masterplan and feasibility study for the station quarter, with the remaining 50 per cent met by the council, Network Rail and LNER.

If the masterplan goes ahead, the site could contain a multi-storey car park, a western station entrance and offices and flats, both of which would be extremely popular given our proximity to London. From October the fastest train times to Kings Cross will be just 39 minutes!

The Station Quarter is one of many sites contained within our Local Plan which was due to be signed off by members at Wednesday night’s Full Council meeting. The plan sets out sites within the city and its surrounding villages which are earmarked for development so that developers wanting to invest here can see with ease the potential.

The finished product is the culmination of three years’ hard work by the officers involved and I would like to congratulate them on their success. Their expert knowledge and skill is evident in the fact that they are now producing local plans for other councils, including Fenland District Council. This is just one example of the many ways we are generating income to be able to provide the services that our residents need at a time when our government funding is reducing and demand for our services is increasing. (more…)

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…)

Highways team on the right road

Keeping the city’s roads in tip top condition is an utmost priority for our highways team and they do a sterling job all year round.

Thanks to their hard work, the council has been ranked as the top highway and transport authority in the eastern region for the second year in a row.

The authority scored highly in the 2018 National Highways and Transport (NHT) survey which asked residents across the country for their views on highway and transport services.

The NHT conducts the survey each year to determine public satisfaction on service delivered by local authorities.

Peterborough City Council was ranked as the best highway authority in the eastern region and nationally, was ranked 27th out of 112 highway authorities.

At national level PCC was given a 55 per cent satisfaction score, with the average being 53 per cent.

I would like to say a big well done to the team and I know that they will continue to ensure that the city’s roads are in the best possible condition. (more…)

So much to look forward to

Flytipping is a crime which affects everyone in our city.

It not only ruins the look and feel of an area, it dents the pride residents have in their local communities and is also a very real fire risk.

In May I wrote in this blog that one of my top priorities is eradicating flytipping and I wanted to give you an update on how we are getting on.

We are going to set up a cross party task and finish group of members to look at best practice elsewhere and produce a robust and detailed action plan to tackle this scourge for approval by cabinet by the autumn.

(more…)

Westcombe’s a real success story

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.

Westcombe Engineering Parliamentary review

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.

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Devolution delivers new homes for Peterborough

As part of the devolution deal across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough the government committed to a housing fund of £100million to be spent over the next five years.

The fund will be spent across the area to build more properties including affordable homes.

I was pleased to secure such a large fund to support residents, especially as the original offer from government was to be spent across all of Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Suffolk and Norfolk!

Details have been announced this week of the first projects, subject to approval, that are set to benefit from this funding that was only available as part of a devolution deal for the area.

(more…)

Helping young people with their future plans

The hot weather heralded the end of hundreds of young people’s secondary education with exams finishing for the majority last week.

Many young people will already be clear about their plans for the future with further education and university applications already in the pipeline.

But for some the summer offers a blank page with adulthood on the horizon and decisions about what to do next.

If you are one of the young people still deciding whether to remain in education or to enter the world of work it’s important to remember that there is plenty of support out there.

(more…)