Budget proposals for 2021/22

Last Friday we published a first set of budget proposals for 2021/22 which begin to explain how we will deliver the services that we know our residents need with the funding we have available.

Budget setting has been a challenge in recent years with our funding from government reducing by over 70 per cent in the past decade, but the Covid-19 pandemic has raised the bar on this challenge next year.

To put it simply, we need to make savings totalling £36m – that’s almost a quarter of our net revenue budget, i.e. the money we spend each year on providing services.

In recent years we’ve had to make many millions of pounds worth of savings to balance our budget. We’ve done this by reviewing all the services we provide to make sure they are as efficient as possible, by reviewing contracts to get better value and by increasing our income generation – we now generate £78million of external income annually.

At the same time our population continues to rise – we now provide services for more than 202,000 people, we have more older people requiring care, more children needing school places, more children with special educational needs and more children in care.

But the Covid-19 pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on the council, as it has many businesses and organisations across our city.

These include a forecast loss of £2.4million in parking revenue, a council tax deficit of £2.8million as many people are unable to pay and an increase in households receiving council tax support, as well as an additional £13.8 million on providing enhanced Adult Social Care services.

This first phase of proposals details how we will save £2.7million but the scale of the challenge will require additional funding and solutions – we cannot meet the challenge by savings alone.

stacks of coins

As a result we are discussing with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and our MPs about potential solutions to the financial situation.

This will not just help us to continue to deliver essential services, but will allow us to continue our highly effective support in fighting the effects of Covid-19 in Peterborough.

And let’s not forget how successful that work has been.

We’ve worked with communities to reduce infection rates from a position of having the sixth highest rates in the country, to below the national average and our scheme to contact trace people who have tested positive for COVID-19 currently has a 77% success rate.

At one point we were one of the best in the country for distributing £32m in business grants and awarding 100% business rate relief for designated businesses totalling £40.3m, plus we have supported vulnerable residents through the Peterborough Coordination Hub.

We’ve had our first meeting with MCHLG and I am pleased to say they have promised to work closely with us. They recognise that even with the considerable support already provided to local government, there will be individual authorities with unique circumstances, such as Peterborough.

Delivering a balanced budget next year is the most severe challenge we have faced, but we will find a solution so that we can continue to work hard to keep people safe, support our businesses and to keep our city moving forward.


Embankment joins other sites in future growth of Peterborough

As regular readers will know, there is much to be excited about in terms of plans for future growth in Peterborough.

Fletton Quays, North Westgate, the Station Quarter, Northminster and other city centre locations are all set to be transformed over the coming years.

I’ve been in local government for over 40 years and I can honestly say that our current regeneration plans are the most ambitious we’ve had since the Development Corporation way back in the 1960s.

Another area we are working to enhance is the Embankment and this week announced that we are moving forward with the production of a Masterplan, showcasing the 90-acre site as a year-round destination.

The development will include the new university campus, a proposed new stadium for Peterborough United, retention of assets such as the Lido, Key Theatre and open green spaces for leisure and recreational use.

embankment map

It will open up the city’s river frontage making it a destination in its own right, with the installation of a new pedestrian footbridge to Fletton Quays, subject to funding, and improving the use of open green space along the whole stretch of the river.

Last week I addressed delegates at an Investors Conference about our future plans. It was a really positive event and highlighted everything that Peterborough has going for it.

For example, did you know that over the last Century, Peterborough saw the second highest rate of jobs growth of any UK city and our enterprising population has seen the business start-up rate consistently ranked amongst the top 20 cities in the UK over the last 10 years?

There are over 7,000 businesses operating here, the A1 is on our doorstep, and we will soon be able to go direct to London King’s Cross in less than 40 minutes, a great benefit for commuters and shoppers alike!

On top of that, the city boasts a £30 million full-fibre network installed by CityFibre that reaches nearly every home and business premises.

Peterborough is growing fast, and we want it to remain a city where people and businesses can realise their ambitions. These plans will unlock even more potential within our city, creating a refreshed and welcoming environment where people want to live, work, and visit. (more…)

Further Covid-19 safety measures to be introduced

The past six months have been extremely challenging for us all, but one big positive is the way communities have come together to help those in need.

To celebrate this and determine how we can continue to support each other, city community leaders took part in a special summit last week.

We discussed how we can work together to re-energise and reinvigorate our efforts to keep our communities safe, our businesses open and put our economy back on a firm footing.

It was a very positive event, highlighting some of the fantastic work that has taken place in recent months – once again thank you to everyone involved for their sterling efforts.

Moving forwards you will see some visible council and police patrols across the city as we continue to work with our partners to control the spread of Covid-19.

We’re also going to be increasing our work with businesses to make sure they are operating in a Covid-secure way and continuing to push messages out to our communities to ensure as many people as possible are following the rules. We were one of the first areas in the county to produce translated public health messages and this has helped to reduce the spread of the virus in recent months.

We remain committed to promoting testing locally, ensuring everyone who needs a test can get one. We will do this by providing a walk-in testing site in Central Peterborough – more on this soon – and by providing support through our local hub for people who are struggling to access a test, either because of a language barrier or transport issue.

We also want to remove any barriers which are stopping people from self-isolating if they have been asked to by NHS Test and Trace. A big part of this is the financial aspect and so this week we’re launching a support scheme which will offer £500 payments to people who cannot self-isolate for financial reasons. To be eligible you will need to meet certain criteria – please visit www.peterborough.gov.uk/selfisolationpayment

We remain at a crucial point in tackling the virus locally. The rates of infection in Peterborough are below the England average, but they are still higher than they have been in a number of months.

It is vital that we don’t throw away what we’ve achieved so far, so please continue to follow the national guidance and stay vigilant at all times. (more…)

More Opportunities for Peterborough

One of my proudest achievements as a councillor is the work we have done over the past decade to enhance our historic city centre.

When I look around Peterborough now, I see a thriving modern city where people want to live, work and visit.

But with success comes challenges. Our population is rapidly rising, so we need to continue to develop and regenerate the city, so it can be an attractive place for future generations.

Regular readers will be aware that in spite of the disruption from Covid-19, the city is pressing ahead with ambitious plans.

Last week it was announced that we’ve begun acquiring land at North Westgate, kick-starting exciting plans to re-vamp the area and create hundreds of jobs, and just a few weeks ago we saw the planning application submitted for our new university which is just two years off opening.

We’ve plans in place for the Station Quarter to reinvigorate the gateway to the city, we’re in discussions with the owners of the Rivergate shopping arcade about new apartments and a food and retail offering and there’s also the £90 million vision for Northminster to create a residential-led, mixed-use scheme with public realm enhancement.

We’re working with Peterborough United Football Club on plans for a new £50 million, 20,000 capacity-stadium on the Embankment and Fletton Quays continues to move at pace with work recently getting underway on the new Hilton Hotel and expected soon are spades in the ground on a Government Hub.

To help promote our extensive regeneration plans, our partners Opportunity Peterborough are holding an online conference on 9 October. We’re inviting local investors, developers, businesses and stakeholders to learn about our plans and how they can get involved.

Delegates will hear directly about the plans with public sector backing for the city’s ambitions from the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority Mayor, James Palmer, and MP for Peterborough, Paul Bristow.

Our vision for the heart of the city is truly transformative and as I say so often Peterborough’s time really is now, there is so much to be excited about.

It promises to be an exciting event, so if you haven’t already registered and would like to attend, please email info@investinpeterborough.co.uk.


Further developments on Peterborough’s horizon

As regular readers will know, my love for Peterborough burns brightly and I’m really proud of the work we’ve achieved in recent years to develop our thriving modern city.

I want to help build a city that future generations will be proud of and that’s why I’m really excited about our latest announcement that the much-anticipated North Westgate project is moving forward at pace.

This week the council gave approval to commence land assembly for the £150 million scheme which will play a crucial part in the city’s future.

The council and our partners Hawksworth Securities PLC, have entered into an agreement to begin acquiring land at the site, kick-starting exciting plans to re-vamp the area and create hundreds of jobs.

The scheme will provide new homes, office premises, a hotel, and supporting retail, restaurant, café and leisure uses, set within extensive new public spaces and landscaping.

But although we’re developing for the future, we’re also considering the present in ensuring that the popular Brewery Tap pub and Westgate Church remain within an enhanced public realm setting.

While the Council is in a unique position of being able to use compulsory purchase powers, if required, the aim of both parties is to secure the remaining parcels of land through private treaty negotiations, as far as possible.

Like Fletton Quays, the redevelopment of North Westgate will generate growth in this under-utilised part of the city and is part of our long- term aim to extend and revitalise Peterborough city centre.

North Westgate ties in nicely with our plans to open up the Station Quarter area of the city, creating a welcoming route from the train station into the city centre and creating space for the development of new homes and offices.

It also complements our planned regeneration of the Northminster site, with architects continuing to work on a design brief to move this forward.

As I have said previously, Peterborough’s time really is now, we want to make our city an even better place to work, live and play for the next 50 years.


Coronavirus pressure highlights councils’ vital role

Last weekend the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show East reported on council finances and specifically whether local authorities have enough money to cope with the pandemic.

It was a really interesting piece, which not only looked at the essential role that councils have played in the response to the virus, but the huge demands and funding challenges it has generated.

In Peterborough, Coronavirus has created huge financial pressures for us in our drive to maintain the services that people have needed, to help those who are more vulnerable and to support the national effort to eradicate the virus.

The Government delivered on its promise and provided additional funding, but it’s fair to say that the past six months have made our budget setting process for 2021/22 and beyond even tougher than we expected it to be.

We are now looking ahead to the next financial year and how we will provide the services that we know our residents need with the money we have available. The two have not matched for a number of years.

We need the Government to agree a better funding formula for councils such as ours, so that we are not in the situation we find ourselves year after year, having to make millions of pounds worth of savings to balance our budget.

The pandemic has definitely made our financial situation worse, but it has also shone a light on councils and illustrated the essential role they play in society.

Councils like ours have been delivering regular services, supporting people who are shielding or vulnerable, managing outbreaks and more recently supporting the national test and trace service.

Our staff have gone above and beyond – as have so many of our residents for that matter who have worked tirelessly to help others.

Many services stopped once the virus hit, but there were others that had no choice but to continue. Between April and June Aragon emptied 28,000 litter and dog bins, cut 20 million square metres of grass verges and open spaces and removed more than 2,200 flytips.Aragon infographic

Our bereavement team has continued to support families who have lost loved ones, arranging 721 cremations and burials between April and June.

We’ve supported children, adults and the elderly who’ve needed our support, we’ve maintained roads, reopened our city centre and worked closely with our schools to ensure they could open to as many pupils as possible. In fact, Peterborough is currently the 4th highest in the country for the number of children attending school at 88 per cent – that’s fantastic and a credit to our schools.

We’ve supported our businesses by administering Government grants, paying out in the region of £32million to 2,652 businesses. At one point we were level best in the country for getting these grants out to local businesses and better than anywhere else in Cambridgeshire.

We’ve also awarded 100 per cent business rate relief for 1,255 retail/hospitality/leisure businesses, totalling £40.3 million and given out 57 discretionary grants worth £570,000 and 30 discretionary grants worth £750,000.

Since March we’ve also been asked by Government to provide additional services, such as support for people who are shielding and vulnerable.

The countywide hub supported 1,544 shielded people in Peterborough, with more than 1,000 of these still receiving regular contact to check that they are okay.

We sent regular food parcels to 335 households and City College Peterborough provided over 10,000 meals in the lockdown months to vulnerable residents

More recently, the Government has asked us to support the national NHS Test and Trace service with a locally enhanced contract tracing service, using our expert knowledge of the city and our residents. Our environmental health and regulatory officers are following up on people who have tested positive for coronavirus, but who haven’t responded to a call or email from the national service, as well as getting details about their close contacts.

The pandemic has allowed us to show Government the vital role that councils play and how important it is for them to be at the forefront when there is a crisis.

We will continue to work hard to keep people safe, allow our children to learn and to improve our city, but we need fairer funding.

We have the support of our MPs in this and we will be continuing to make our case known to Government. (more…)

New swimming pool and leisure centre announced for Peterborough

Last week we announced plans to investigate building a new city centre swimming pool and leisure facility and I’ve had lots of positive comments from residents as a result.

The Regional Pool has served us well for more than 40 years and many residents continue to enjoy and love its facilities. However, it is time to look at providing a modern facility with the potential to provide even more for our growing population. So, we’re now working with the Peterborough Investment Partnership – the organisation transforming Fletton Quays – to develop a detailed business case to assess whether Pleasure Fair Meadow car park could be the site for a new pool and leisure facility.

I must stress that the plans are at a very early stage, but it is an exciting opportunity to explore developing a new city centre swimming pool and leisure facility.

We are fully committed to providing high quality leisure facilities in Peterborough and on that subject, I’m pleased to say that the transfer of arts, leisure and heritage services from Vivacity back into council control is going well.

Vivacity and the council have now opened three leisure centre and five libraries with excellent customer feedback around the safety measures that have been put in place.

This week, following our request Vivacity trustees agreed to extend the service transfer date to 30 September to help ensure a smooth transition for customers, staff and residents of Peterborough. At this point, it is proposed Vivacity colleagues will transfer to City College Peterborough Foundation and Peterborough Limited. And to set the record straight, the current staff who are the experts in these services will be taking the lead in continuing to provide these high-quality services.

The extra time will allow a smooth transfer for customers, staff and all involved to make sure there is minimal impact for you as service users.

Whether you’re a gym member, staff member, library user or have tickets to a show at the Key Theatre, I know you will be watching with interest to find out how the transfer impacts on you individually and on the city as a whole.

As the city recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, we will be watching keenly to see how customers use Vivacity services, by this I mean, whether or not you are happy to work out, visit events and travel to heritage sites largely as before. Vivacity have told us that many customers have already returned, and they have received many positive comments from them. If you have any suggestions on how services could be tweaked, such as the provision of more open-air fitness classes, virtual events or services do tell us.

After re-opening many facilities, such as Vivacity Premier Fitness, Central Library, the Regional Pool and Fitness Centre and Peterborough Athletics Track, we will continue to re-launch your local facilities as soon as we are able. For the latest re-opening times, please keep an eye on the council’s website and Vivacity’s.

I want you all to rest assured that arts, leisure and heritage are of vital importance to the city council as we help the city bounce back following Covid-19. It fits into our plans for the redevelopment of Peterborough through the Government’s Towns Fund bid, plans for a new stadium for Peterborough United and what will be needed to support the forthcoming university

You can rest assured that we will continue to work hard to keep you safe and to keep the city moving forward.


School promise a safe September

The first week of September is always a key time of year, seeing as it marks the start of the new school year and for many children the beginning of their education.

It may be a while since my school days, but I remember feeling excited to return to class after the long summer break and I’m sure pupils are looking forward to catching up with their friends, teachers and school staff.

As I said in last week’s column, the past year has been like no other for our schools. Everyone involved in education has had to adapt to an unprecedented situation and you have my sincere thanks for doing such a wonderful job in very difficult circumstances.

Having children back in the classroom is the best option for all concerned, giving them the chance to learn, develop and flourish.

back to school image

But I want to reiterate that our schools are safe places to return to and assure everyone that we have worked very hard in readiness for this week.

Over the summer, schools went through rigorous and detailed risk assessments, as well as clarifying how they could meet the ‘System of Controls’ – steps set out by government which a school must follow to minimise the number of contacts a pupil has during a school day.

Having worked through the assessments and put in place necessary measures to ensure adequate cleaning and ‘social bubbles’ can be adhered to, we are fully confident our schools are safe spaces.

But rest assured, we will never be complacent and will continue to thoroughly monitor the situation and adapt as needed. (more…)

#KeepCaring this Bank Holiday weekend

It may surprise you to learn that late August is one of my favourite times of year.

Normally the Peterborough Beer Festival would be in full swing and despite the fact that the nights are slowly but surely drawing in, there’s the last bank holiday of the year before Christmas to look forward to.

The weather’s been a bit wet and wild lately so I hope things improve for this weekend and everyone can get out and enjoy themselves. But it goes without saying that this year has been unlike any other and as such we ask you to please take care out and about.

Coronavirus hasn’t gone away and that’s why we’re urging everyone to keep caring for their communities by sticking to the rules around social distancing this Bank Holiday weekend.

By remaining aware and alert we can help reduce the risk of infection by taking some well-known simple steps to stop the virus in its tracks.

These steps include keeping two metres distant from anyone not in your own household, making sure to wear a face covering in public places, washing hands thoroughly, and more often and that everyone in a household isolates if someone in the home has symptoms until they’ve taken a test and the results are known.

Bank Holiday infographic

So if you’re meeting friends or family outside, please remember to keep to groups of no more than six people from different households, and try to keep two metres apart.

Don’t forget that Coronavirus tests are available via phone by calling 111 or can be ordered free online from the NHS website. There are also drive-in testing places available across Peterborough. (more…)

Plans for new library and culture hub announced for city centre

Last week I told you about the funding bid we had made to the Government as part of the Towns Fund to further transform our city.

The development of our cultural infrastructure is a key part of our bid for up to £25million from the Fund and I can now tell you about one of the projects that we hope it will be able to support.

The council has announced its intention this week to purchase the TK Maxx and former New Look buildings in Bridge Street to be able to transform them into a new city centre library and multi-purpose hub.

The hub would include community facilities, meeting rooms, rehearsal rooms and studios, space for independent businesses such as a community café, together with access to facilities for community learning and education.

New library

It would be a fantastic addition to this part of the city – close to the new university campus and Fletton Quays – allowing us to equip even more residents with the skills they need to secure employment and get on in life. It will also ensure the units don’t remain vacant when TK Maxx moves its store into Queensgate next year.

We’re looking to purchase the buildings for just under £4million, plus stamp duty and land tax, and contribute up to £5million towards conversion and refurbishment costs, although we expect part of these costs to be met following confirmation of our Towns Fund award.

In addition, we’ll be able to make money out of the project, including commercial income from the second and third floors of the building and the former New Look shop. We’ll also be looking to sell the existing Central Library site and Chauffeurs Cottage to developers to generate an income for the council.

This is a really exciting project for our city, which will breathe new life into Bridge Street and create fantastic opportunities for our residents. And if our Towns Fund application is approved in full, it will be the first of many exciting developments to come!

We have a vision for Peterborough and yet again we are seeing that vision become a reality.

You can rest assured the council will continue to work hard to keep services going, its residents safe and well and to keep the city moving.