Peterborough to receive exceptional financial support from Government

This week we had some very welcome news from Government with ministers confirming they have understood our unique situation and pressures by accepting our request for exceptional financial support.

It came as a huge relief, with there being little more we could have done to make the savings needed to deliver a balanced budget in 2021/22, after spending much of the past decade making our services as efficient as possible and maximising the income that we generate.

pound sign

Robert Jenrick and his team at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have confirmed they will be offering the council an additional £4.8m to support with the current year’s Covid-19 related costs, and up to £20m for 2021/22 through the awarding of a Capitalisation Direction. In layman’s terms this allows us to borrow money to fund revenue costs, i.e. to pay for those day-to-day services we provide, something we are not usually allowed to do. With this support from Government, we can now present to members a way to set a legal balanced budget in 2021/22.

In allowing us a Capitalisation Direction, MHCLG has recognised that the council has done everything it can to deliver much-needed services efficiently and they have trust in us to continue meeting the needs of our residents.

It’s not an intervention as has happened in other councils where the Government has felt they don’t have a firm grip of their financial situation. In our case, it has been accepted that we have done what we can – but the growth of the city and the needs of our population have outstripped the amount of money currently available to us.

The past year has been one of the most challenging I have ever experienced in local government – it will also have been one of the most challenging for many of our residents and businesses.

I am proud of the services we have provided – the support we have provided to so many – but of course all of that comes at a cost. The support from the Government for those extra costs has been fantastic, but of course it’s the hidden costs that have made the challenge of setting a budget that much higher. It’s the savings and transformation proposals we had planned for this year to save us money in future years which we have not been able to implement. It’s the income we have lost in council tax, business rates and parking revenue.

With support from our two local MPs Paul Bristow and Shailesh Vara, who have argued our case at the highest levels of Government, we have been successful in getting the approval we needed for exceptional financial support. I’m also pleased that in our feedback from MHCLG there was praise for our fantastic finance team and the council’s political administration.

However, our discussions with Government continue so that we can find a longer-term solution to the annual budget setting challenge that we and so many councils face.

As demand for our services continues to rise we need to find a way to ensure that ongoing funding for Peterborough is sufficient to support those core services we all rely on.

The Government has made a commitment to identify a fairer way to award funding for councils and we look forward to working closely with them on this.

The support put forward by MHCLG and other proposals as part of our phase two budget will be published tomorrow (Friday) and you’ll be able to read them on our website. Members will then be able to vote on options for a balanced budget in 2021/22 at the council’s budget setting Full Council meeting on 3 March.

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Progress for Peterborough University

In the past few months our unwavering focus has been on helping people who have needed our support through the most testing of times.

Whether it’s adult social care supporting residents in their own home, the countywide and city coordination hubs helping hundreds of people across the city who are shielding or vulnerable, refuse crews who have worked tirelessly to ensure our bins were emptied regularly or bereavement staff who have continued to support families who have lost a loved one – they, and many others, have all played their part alongside colleagues in the NHS and other sectors.

In the background we have also continued to press ahead with the many projects that will ensure our city can recover from the coronavirus. It is vital for our residents and our businesses that we do, so that Peterborough continues to prosper, improve and grow at the rate it was pre-COVID.

One of those projects is the delivery of a dedicated university for Peterborough, which took another big step forward this week with the submission of the planning application for the Wirrina car park site, off Bishop’s Road.

In a double boost, the Government has agreed to fund 90 per cent of the £13.5 million research super hub from its local growth programme. I’ll be able to tell you more about this in the coming weeks, but it is a key element of our new university which will set us apart from many others.

It has been a great few weeks for the university with Anglia Ruskin announced last month as our higher education partner to deliver the curriculum and manage the university.

Plans really are progressing and it won’t be long before we see the first students walk through the doors in just two years’ time.

A R U site

A dedicated university for Peterborough will see huge improvement in the opportunities available to our residents, the success of our businesses, and on informing external perceptions of Peterborough as we progress from a small to a medium sized city and one which will become an even more attractive place to live, work and set up business.

I can assure you we will do everything in our power to ensure that our new university is a real success and grows to become a vital part of the fabric of our city. We are already a city with a beautiful cathedral and our new university on a green attractive riverside, parkland, campus will help cement and enhance our reputation.

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Plans for our return to the city centre

Three weeks ago the Prime Minister lifted restrictions on our movements slightly to allow more people to get back to work and for unlimited outdoors exercise – all whilst observing social distancing of course.

We now know that outdoor markets and car showrooms will be able to reopen from 1 June and all other non-essential retail outlets from 15 June, if the Government’s five tests are met and they follow the COVID-19 guidelines to protect workers and shoppers.

On Peterborough Market, traders selling essential items such as food, DIY and hardware goods have been able to continue trading during the lockdown. We now plan to undertake a health and safety audit to ensure the Government’s social distancing measures can be implemented safely, before allowing traders selling non-essential items to return.

We have been planning for the reopening of the city centre for a number of weeks, together with local businesses and business representative groups such as Queensgate, Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough Positive, so that there is clear guidance for businesses.

New social distancing guidance and signage will begin to be installed in the city soon and people will start to notice that things they touch a lot such as benches, bins and pay and display machines are being cleaned more regularly.

We are also working with businesses to see how areas such as St Peter’s Arcade and the Guildhall can become part a wider café culture in the city – I’ll be able to tell you more about this soon!

guildhall peterborough

Of course, all of this will cost money, so I am pleased the Government has allocated us £181,000 from the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund to pay for some of the changes that will be necessary.

We know that COVID-19 has had a harsh impact on businesses in Peterborough and that’s why we are looking at how we can re-open our city centre as soon as we are able to, as safely as possible. We know our city’s economy is strong which means we are in a better position than most to weather the crisis. (more…)

Times are hard financially but our city is continuing to prosper

In last week’s blog I spoke about the huge budget challenge that we face next year and the need to deliver savings following the publication of our budget proposals.

Lots of you have been reading them and using our online survey to tell us how you feel. Please continue to comment so that we can understand your views before making final decisions.

I cannot deny that we are proposing changes to some services that I wish we did not have to, but we have also gone to great lengths to limit cuts to services. The Peterborough Telegraph’s front page last week implied we are making £33m cuts – I can assure you that’s not the case.

Service cuts are a last resort, instead we are achieving millions of pounds worth of savings by providing services differently, for example jointly with the county council, renegotiating contracts to achieve best value and thanks to additional money from the Government.

At times like this it’s easy to lose sight of the many services we provide for our residents on a daily basis and the successes that we achieve.

We’re looking after more older people and ensuring those in hospital have the support they need to get them home as soon as possible, maintaining some of the lowest delayed discharge rates in the country. We continue to invest in our Family Safeguarding approach to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children and young people, meaning the number of children in care is lower than most other councils of our size.

Our highways and transport services are some of the best in the country. It’s just been announced that we’ve been ranked joint top authority in the eastern region in this year’s National Highways and Transport survey which is fantastic.

We’ve ensured that the ever-increasing demand for school places has been met by continued investment in new and improved school buildings. As a result, more children than ever before are being offered their first preference school. Plans are on track to deliver a dedicated university for 2,000 students by 2022.

We’ve led the successful re-development of Fletton Quays which is modernising the city’s skyline, further boosting the economy and creating hundreds of new jobs and housing. We’re unlocking the economic potential of the Station Quarter and North Westgate in order to make them attractive to investors and a city centre development framework is being developed to secure our future as a larger city destination, supporting future tourism growth and increasing opportunities for residents. We’re launching a Business Improvement District in the city centre to help businesses to prosper locally, compete nationally and also to help drive inward investment.

We continue to tackle homelessness by securing housing locally to meet the predicted long term need for housing in the city. Over the past 12 months we’ve removed the need to house homeless families out of the area and the numbers in B&B accommodation has been reduced from 146 in September 2018 to 73 in October 2019.

Never have times been harder financially, but I strongly refute accusations made by some politicians that our city is not prospering.

Yes there is lots of work to be done to help everyone in our city who needs it and yes we need more funding to provide the services that we need to. But thanks to the dedication of our staff, our partners and the majority of councillors, we are making a difference to people’s lives on a daily basis.

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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…)

Looking forward: Peterborough University and Doubling Green Spaces

The next few years promise to be an exciting time for higher education in Peterborough.

The work that we are all doing now to create a dedicated university will, I believe, transform our city for the next 100 years and beyond.

It will change the aspirations of our residents, giving everyone the chance to attain the highest skills they are able to, in order to apply for the jobs offered by our employers.

The research that we are doing now means that we can be sure of this – and this approach is what will set our university apart from every other across the country.

Almost 80 businesses recently responded to a survey undertaken by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority asking what kinds of courses and skills they would like to see delivered at the new University of Peterborough. 

Employers said that skills in mechanical and structural engineering, mathematics, science and certain health and social care skills were in demand now and would be in the future. The most popular areas were business, IT and digital and sustainability skills, with newer and rapidly progressing technology such as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity likely to be in significant demand in the future. 

Of course, it’s not just what is taught, but how it’s taught, and employers told us that work-based learning through higher apprenticeships would provide the most benefit.

Our employers have told us quite clearly what skills they need and the industries likely to prosper in future years, which will ensure that the curriculum delivered will both help students into well-paid, secure jobs, while also addressing the current and future skills needs of the local economy.

In further good news, a project management team has been appointed to get us from where we are now to the first students walking through the doors of the new university in 2022.

The team from Mace will lead on the delivery of the university, including planning permission for the building, the actual build project and the creation of the curriculum.

They have a good track record in this industry, delivering projects like the University of Northampton, and their expertise and experience will be invaluable.

The university we are creating for Peterborough will break the mould for what higher education can deliver. It will make other cities think differently and consider how its educational offering is connected to the local economy. 

These are exciting times for higher education in Peterborough, and will lead to greater aspirations for our residents, as well as enabling us to keep hold of our talented people, by making our city more attractive for them to live, study and work.  (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…)

All in dual course – the roads to Peterborough’s success

One of the many aspects that makes Peterborough a great place to do business is our fantastic road system and proximity to cities such as London and Birmingham and the east coast ports.

It’s essential for businesses to have this kind of connectivity and it’s also important that our residents are able to get to work, school and go about their daily lives without being sat in congestion, whether travelling by car, bike or bus.

That is why we have spent millions of pounds in recent years upgrading our road network so that people can navigate our city with relative ease and why we are planning our transport system of the future.

I’m not saying we are congestion free, in this day and age with the number of vehicles on our roads that’s impossible, but at peak times you can travel from one end of our city to the other relatively quickly when compared to the likes of Cambridge and Coventry. At peak times I can get into Peterborough city centre from my home in Glinton within 20 minutes.

In recent years we’ve increased capacity at a number of locations, including the Fletton Parkway, junction 20 of the A47 with the A15 and junction 5 of the Frank Perkins parkway at Boongate. We’re currently working on the A15/A47 junction 18 to add an additional lane, road crossings, and to strengthen and repair the footbridge.

The Leader stands with colleagues on Rhubarb Bridge

Without these investments in our roads and crossings the city could not have grown the way it has in recent years, which has brought with it additional investment, jobs and housing.

Later this month I will be attending a reception at Parliament hosted by Brandon Lewis MP to support the campaign to dual another important route for our city, the A47 to Lowestoft.

This road joins the city with the east coast and is of national strategic importance, linking the Midlands with Eastern seaports and acts as an economic artery that runs through Peterborough.

Dualling the remaining sections would bring huge benefits, reducing journey times and congestion and supporting our vision to see more local economic growth.

This is just one of the projects we are supporting and leading to plan our transport system for the future to ensure our roads, bridges and crossings can cope with increasing levels of demand.

As part of this we are considering the possibility of having a rapid transport system here, such as underground or overground light rail, if the money was available to do so. This isn’t something we need now, but it might be in the future as the city continues to grow and develop.

We also have funding from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to investigate the potential for a number of other improvements including the Nene Parkway junction 15, dualling a short section of the A16 to unlock the Norwood development and a series of improvements to support the university on the Embankment.

If these schemes are recommended, we will then look to secure funding to make them happen, so that Peterborough can remain one of the easier to navigate cities in the UK. (more…)

Commercial strategy is paying off

This month my Cabinet colleagues and I will be asked to approve the council’s first commercial strategy.

It doesn’t sound the most exciting document I admit, but it’s actually very important as it sets out how we’ll further generate income by selling our services, investing and operating more like a business.

With our government funding only going one way, we couldn’t deliver a balanced budget and provide the services our residents rely upon without generating the income we do.

Last year we made £72million through investments, sharing of services, providing services for other organisations, property rental and fees and charges.

For example, we generated £2.7million by selling the energy produced by our energy from waste plant and our commercial property portfolio which is worth £21million generates an annual income of around £3million – that’s a 14 per cent return.

We share our planning and trading standards departments with other councils, bringing in £4million annually and our £15million loan to Propiteer Hotels Ltd for the building of the new Hilton hotel at Fletton Quays will make us £500,000.

impression fletton quays

Our sharing of services with Cambridgeshire County Council, in particular the chief executive and her senior leadership team, has delivered sizeable savings.

I could go on, but these are just a few of the ways we’re generating income and working in a more commercial way to be able to provide the services you need, despite an 80 per cent cut in our government funding.

And with that funding due to decrease even further in years to come, we have got to find more ways of generating our own income. Our commercial strategy will help us to do that. (more…)

Peterborough prepares for Christmas

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is now less than two weeks away, but then again 2018 has flown by at some pace.

If like me you leave your Christmas shopping until the last minute, then I’m sure the next few days will be busy as you prepare for the big day.

Please do be aware, however, that over the Christmas and New Year period, our council offices will be closing their doors.

Our main offices, including Sand Martin House, Bayard Place and the Town Hall will be closed from noon on Monday 24 December until Wednesday 2 January 2019, with no face-to-face services available.

Peterborough Offices

However, the council’s call centre will open from Thursday 27 December to Monday 31 December between the hours of 9am and 5pm and there will also be support in place for key services.

Our office buildings and call centre will open as usual on January 2.

The other key change to remember is that black and green bin collection days alter between Christmas and New Year. Full details about office closures and bin collection changes available here. (more…)