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 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.

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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…)

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…)

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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A credit to our wonderful city

Armistice 100

There is an old saying that every great city is only that way because of the people who live there.

Well, Sunday’s Civic Remembrance service in the city centre demonstrated just how great the people of Peterborough truly are.

I’ve not seen Bridge Street so packed for a long time – there must have been thousands of people who came along to pay their respects.

This year’s event was especially poignant as not only did Remembrance Day fall on a Sunday but the occasion also marked 100 years since the signing of the Armistice which led to the end of the First World War.

Remembrance Parade

We were anticipating big crowds and put up a giant TV screen in Cathedral Square so that people could watch the military parade along Bridge Street, wreath laying by the war memorial and two minute silence which was impeccably observed.

We also streamed live footage from the event on the council’s Facebook page and I’m informed that many people watched this online.

So I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who came along – you are a credit to our wonderful city.

I know that the servicemen and women who attended were deeply touched by the huge turnout and saw firsthand that the people of Peterborough will never forget those who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today.

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Peterborough in the papers

Fakes send out serious message

Peterborough has hit the national headlines not once, but twice this week. The Sun and The Mirror picked up on a story which you might have seen in this paper last week about 1,000 imported teddy bears which were destroyed by our Trading Standards team.

While they looked nice and cuddly, the eyes and noses on the teddy bears were badly designed and could easily fall off, creating a choking hazard for babies and young children.

There is serious message here – please be careful when buying toys in the run up to Christmas.Fake Teddy Bears

On Monday, our city made the national headlines again, this time for taking part in a postal and proxy voting pilot for the local elections in May 2019.

You might remember, Peterborough was part of a similar pilot last year which lead to a 47 per cent reduction in postal vote rejection rates.

It will focus on the importance of individuals completing their postal vote themselves and requiring anybody who has been appointed as a proxy to vote on someone else’s behalf to supply photographic ID at the polling station.

We take the issue of election fraud extremely seriously and are committed to ensuring that all elections are fair processes.

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New ways of helping the homeless

This spring we announced we would be offering private landlords and empty home owners hassle-free rent by housing homeless families.

I’m pleased to say the scheme has been a massive success, with over 30 families now housed in this way across the city.

By acting as a guarantor for home owners, the council has been able to quickly increase its temporary accommodation stock and reduce costs spent on B&B style accommodation.

Home owners get the security that comes from having the council acting as a letting agency and the knowledge they are helping Peterborough families who have fallen on hard times.

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Creating a Smart infrastructure

A modern city relies on good infrastructure to keep it moving, and I don’t just mean roads, buildings and utilities like gas and electricity.

The rollout of Gigafast Broadband across Peterborough by CityFibre is now continuing at pace and is set to unlock huge economic growth in our city over the next 15 years.

Already over 140 kilometres of fibre optic cables have been installed and some of you reading will have already seen this happening on your own street.

Once complete, Vodafone is set to bring Gigafast Broadband (1000mbps) to most city residents by early 2019, making Peterborough the third Smart Gigabit city in the UK.

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