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.

(more…)

Mental Health Week – Awareness and Support

There’s been lots in the news this week about mental health awareness and how we can all help people who might be suffering in silence.

As leader of the council I see examples all the time of the impact mental health problems can have on people’s lives, so I’m always pleased to see the issue being highlighted.

For example, our housing needs team regularly come into contact with people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness because their lives have been affected by mental health problems. Without support this can lead to relationship issues.

Our social workers support young people who are struggling to achieve their full potential, residents who are finding it hard to be good parents and adults who are struggling to lead independent lives. These challenges can often be a result of mental health problems.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the importance of talking about mental health is being emphasised – how listening cannot be underestimated, and how each and every one of us has the power to make a difference to someone’s life.

What always concerns me is that it is often not obvious when someone is suffering, in the way it is with a physical disability.

Many years ago I had an uncle who was affected by the war and his mental health suffered as a result. There was no support for him and he was never fully recovered.

Back then no one knew what to do – we didn’t even know what to call it. As a result, my uncle was partly ostracised, not because people didn’t care, but because they felt uncomfortable around him. On the rare occasions that anyone did talk about what had happened, my uncle was described as having ‘had a funny turn after the war’.

In the decades that passed, I’ve seen a shift in how people with stress, PTSD, anxiety and depression are treated. The fact these conditions now have names and people feel comfortable talking about them in their homes, the media and on the street shows you how far we have come. (more…)

Peterborough’s post-election priorities

Last week’s local elections saw the Conservative Party remain as the largest overall party on the council.

I would like to say a big thank you to those who voted and everybody involved in the organisation of the elections.

The council’s elections team has worked tirelessly in recent weeks and they were helped by hundreds of dedicated folk who staffed polling stations and counted votes on the night, so a big well done to you all.

Our focus now turns to the year ahead and delivering the services that residents told us were important to them when we were knocking on doors in the run up to the elections.

election count

Top of our agenda will be those residents who need our help the most – so keeping children and young people safe and allowing them to reach their potential and supporting adults and older people who need our help to remain living independent and happy lives.

We will continue to work closely with our schools to support them to attract good quality teachers and raise attainment levels. Plans for a university continue to progress and within a year I would expect to see planning permission in place for the university campus building on the embankment.

People who are in housing difficulty remain our priority and we will be working with them to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place and where this is not possible, supporting them to find suitable accommodation. We will also continue to support new house building projects so that we have a good supply of housing of all tenures coming forward to meet the needs of our growing city.

I know that the cleanliness of the city is a priority for our residents and that’s why we launched our own trading company to provide waste collection, street cleansing and other services. Doing so has given us more control over the way these services are provided.

We will continue to invest in our roads and cycleways, particularly in areas of the city where we are experiencing high levels of growth, so that people can continue to travel around our city with ease.

I also want us to work more closely with our residents so that they can help us to improve our communities. We are seeing good examples of this across the city, such as the Good Neighbours Scheme in Castor which supports the elderly. I believe we can help encourage many more initiatives like this, therefore putting our communities at the heart of everything we do.

There is much work to be done over the next 12 months to ensure we can continue providing the services that our residents need, against a backdrop of ever decreasing government funding and the need to make millions of pounds of savings.

As the largest party on the council, with support from our fellow opposition members, I believe that we can meet the challenge. (more…)

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.

(more…)

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…)

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…)

No simple answer to homelessness

No one should have to sleep rough in our city. There are always enough beds in our shelters and hostels to make sure this is the case.

However, reducing the number of rough sleepers is not as simple as just providing beds.

Each rough sleeper on our streets has their own individual story to tell. And as such, needs individual support to help them into accommodation.

Did you know that the average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is just 47? That’s a good 30 years less than the national average and this is why our ultimate aim is to support those sleeping rough in getting off the streets for good.

Back in the autumn we teamed up with partners to help to launch the Safer Off The Streets campaign, aimed at ending rough sleepers in the city once and for all.

The scheme features a number of initiatives which are already making a positive difference.

These include a new contactless card window outside the Argo Lounge in St Peter’s Arcade, allowing people to make instant secure £3 donations.

In just over two months, £2,345 has been pledged to the partnership and many rough sleepers have been supported in getting off the streets for good, which is a fantastic start!

If you haven’t already made a donation, please visit the contactless card window at Argo Lounge or visit the donations page on the Safer Off The Streets website.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Remember in November

Christmas lights switch-on

With the clocks going back, temperatures dipping and being greeted by frozen car windscreens in the mornings, this week has certainly felt a lot like winter!

However, one of the best things about this time of year is the build up to Christmas beginning, which leads me nicely on to a big event coming up soon.

Our annual Christmas lights switch-on always attracts huge crowds to the city centre and I’m sure this year’s occasion will be no different.

Christmas switch-on 2017

The event takes place on Friday November 16 with a fun-filled lineup of entertainment from 4pm until 8pm which all the family can come and enjoy.

This is the first time it has been held on a Friday, so make a date in your diary and why not combine it with some Christmas shopping or a nice meal out?

The big switch-on is happening at 7.30pm when myself and the city Mayor will be joined by Father Christmas (how does he find the time right now?) to press the button.

Once the city centre is beautifully lit up, the evening will be rounded off with a burst of fireworks.

(more…)