Please celebrate Christmas differently this year

The past 12 months have been the most challenging that many of us will have encountered and so it is understandable that people are looking forward to some much-needed respite during the festive period.

Christmas is usually the time of year when we all look forward to spending time with family and friends, but with rates of the virus rising in our city and remaining high, we all need to think carefully about with who we choose to spend Christmas with this year.

You’ll be aware that the government has confirmed that people from three different households can spend time together between December 23 and 27 – that’s the same three households across the five days, not three different ones each day.

But I urge you to see this not as a requirement, but a permission if you can make it as safe as possible for everyone involved.

Whilst I’m sure that everyone can’t wait to see their loved ones, please remember that the safest way to spend time with family and friends is either online, on the phone or outside. This advice is particularly important if you or your relatives are elderly or vulnerable.

So instead, you could organise a walk or get together at the local park, or have a family get together online. Remember, if you do meet outdoors, you must be socially distanced at all times.

meet outside

If you do meet indoors, try to give each other space and stay two metres apart, wash your hands regularly and open windows for 10-15 minutes every hour or so, to allow good ventilation.  You’re more likely to catch Covid in poorly ventilated places.

Clean all your surfaces, handles and objects that people might touch and have hand sanitiser available too. Try and reduce the number of people in one room, meet in the largest space possible and rearrange furniture to make more space.

If you’re going out Christmas shopping, remember your face mask and hand sanitiser. Keep your distance from others who are shopping, avoid peak times of the day when stores get busy and try not to queue close together for shops.

I know we continue to ask a lot of our residents, who have already made great sacrifices. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but for now, let’s keep on working together to stop Covid in its tracks.

And please don’t forget that help is at hand if you’re struggling right now. The council’s coordination hub is continuing to support families in need of help and everyday essentials. You can contact the hub by visiting the council’s coronavirus webpage or by calling 01733 747474. (more…)

New Covid marshals join dedicated team

With the national lockdown ending this week and Peterborough moving into Tier Two of the new system, our efforts to control the spread of Coronavirus are continuing in earnest.

Rates of the virus across Peterborough remain high – they’re not reducing at the same rate as many other areas – so we are doing everything we can to get our residents and businesses to pull together to stop Covid in its tracks.

One of the most visible ways we are making a difference is through our dedicated team of Covid marshals.

Ten marshals have been out on patrol in hotspot areas over the past month, speaking to residents, shoppers and businesses, offering advice and guidance about the national safety rules and explaining how people can keep themselves and others safe.

covid marshal

Twenty new marshals joined the team on Monday to increase the amount of time spent engaging with people in those areas where there is a higher prevalence of Covid.

The marshals have been a really positive addition for us, offering a reassuring presence in our communities and providing us with valuable feedback. Police patrols are taking place daily as well, with enforcement action taken when needed.

We are also working with a large number of community organisations such as Age UK and Youth Inspired, faith groups and others to make sure as many people as possible are getting advice. We are translating key messages into other languages and working with community leaders to spread the word widely.

Other measures include advertising public health advice on information boards, lamp posts and roundabouts, using an LED van to share messages, radio advertising, supporting businesses to ensure they are operating safely and allowing staff to work from home. And don’t be surprised if you get a message pop up on your mobile phone when you’re out and about, as we’re trialling text message advertising too.

So as you can see, we have lots going on, but we need your help to control the spread of the virus.

Please remember to only meet indoors with people you live with or who are in your support bubble. You can now meet with up to six people who you do not live with outdoors whilst keeping your distance.

As ever, you can rest assured that we will continue to work hard to keep you safe and to keep the city moving forward. (more…)

England enters second national lockdown

Today sees the start of the second national lockdown as the government steps up its efforts to control the spread of Covid-19.

Cases have been steadily rising and by acting now, we can work to protect the NHS and hopefully enable everyone to celebrate Christmas with loved ones.

The new lockdown rules have been well publicised but I wanted to take this opportunity to reiterate what we all need to do to keep safe.

Please minimise the time spent outside your home and when around other people ensure social distancing – you need to be two metres apart from anyone not in your household or support bubble or one metre with extra precautions, such as face coverings.

I cannot emphasise how important this advice is and by following it we can fight back against the virus.

As a council we are going to continue to do all we can to support our residents and businesses during the lockdown.

Our community hub has provided vital help for vulnerable people and will continue to be there for those in need.

Our Covid marshals, which we successfully bid for government funding for, will continue to patrol hotspot areas of the city, making people and businesses aware of the lockdown guidelines and keeping communities safe.

As ever you can rest assured that we will continue to work hard to keep you safe and to keep the city moving forward. (more…)

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.

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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.

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Climate Action Day – thank you for participating

I’d like to start by saying a big thank you to everyone who participated in our first ever Climate Action Day.

The support we had from residents and organisations across the city was fantastic. Facebook and Twitter were awash with pledges from people sharing their experiences of walking to work, consuming zero plastic and planting trees.

As you might know, I went vegan for the day, which wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. In fact, it will make me consider alternatives to meat and dairy products in the future.

Climate action day montage

The timing of the action day was to coincide with Full Council being asked to rubber stamp an action plan which sets out how we’ll begin working towards making the council net zero carbon by 2030.

I’m pleased to say that councillors backed the plan which commits us to doing a whole host of things to cut our carbon emissions.

At the meeting councillors also signed off the 2020/21 budget, but it wasn’t without fireworks.

Unfortunately, some members took advantage of the fact two Conservative councillors had to leave the meeting for family emergencies and voted against the budget.

Every councillor in the chamber that evening knew how critical it was for us to be able to set a budget, but they were willing to jeopardise that by voting against the proposals, all of which they had previously had the chance to comment on and discuss. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats wanted us to spend even more money!

Luckily our two absent voters were able to return and the budget was passed. However, the challenge continues as we now look to find a way to balance our budget in future years.

As it stands, we have a £16m hole to fill in 2021/22 and will face similar challenges in years that follow. We cannot continue to meet this challenge year after year with one off savings and by salami slicing budgets. We have to find a way of providing the services that we need to, with the money that we have available.

That is what we are now working on, a complete redesign of council services. This won’t be easy, but with our funding reducing year on year and demand increasing, it is essential.

What we need in these unprecedented and challenging times, is for all members to pull together for the good of the council and the city. This is not about which party you represent; it is about doing what’s best for our residents, the future of our council and the city.

Experience tells me that this is what our residents want, and it is what I want.

POSH’s Tommy Robson to receive Freedom of the City

I’m a lifelong Peterborough United fan so it gives me great pleasure to announce that the council has recommended that one of its greatest ever players receives the Freedom of the City.

A special meeting of Full Council will take place on 26 March to decide whether to award the honour to Tommy Robson, who holds the club record for the greatest number of first team appearances and has raised thousands of pounds over the years for local charities, most notably the Amazon children’s ward at the former Peterborough District Hospital.

I saw Tommy play many times and he was a real crowd pleaser; everyone on the terraces loved him. He was a flying machine down the left wing which is why he scored so many goals and created many more.

He remains a stalwart of the club, volunteers his time to help good causes and is a thoroughly nice bloke to boot.

As many will know, Tommy was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease last summer and it has been an incredibly difficult time for him and his family. I hope this recommendation will lighten the load temporarily and show him how highly he is regarded by many across our city.

Civic Awards – congratulations

Finally, I would like to congratulate everyone who received a Civic Award last week. There were some very worthy winners this year, including people who had gone to the aid of a pensioner being attacked and those who had dedicated their lives to helping others.

civic awards at town hall

I was particularly pleased to see that Dave Ellis had been awarded a lifetime achievement award. He was given the award for his work volunteering, having supported hundreds of airmen and air cadets over the years.

Dave has done a huge amount for our city and there are many RAF cadets past and present who have a lot to thank him for.

Peterborough businesses on the increase

I was pleased to read in this newspaper recently that the number of newly registered companies in Peterborough was higher than anywhere else in the county.

New figures show that there were 1,295 business start-ups last year, bringing the total number of companies in the city to an impressive 7,160.

cowgate

That’s really good news and shows that our efforts, alongside our colleagues at Opportunity Peterborough, to position Peterborough as a great place to do business is paying off.

I see evidence of this frequently and only last week Coloplast opened a new £9million distribution centre which is a huge vote of confidence in the city.

Another city-based company operating globally, Photocentric Limited, has just been awarded £1.8million by the Combined Authority to create a flagship UK centre for 3D printing excellence.

I showed the Mayor of the Combined Authority, James Palmer, around the company, which designs and manufactures 3D printers and resins. We were both impressed at the level of expertise on show and the innovation taking place in our city.

Photocentric was founded in 2002 at Workspace House in Woodston with just one employee. Today, 18 years later, it employs 145 people in the city and 40 more in its US subsidiary in Phoenix, Arizona, with a current turnover of £11m. Photocentric has ambitious plans to double its turnover in 2020, exploiting its unique 3D printing technology.

We are at a crucial stage in Peterborough’s growth – we’re regenerating many key sites across the city centre including Northminster, the railway station and North Westgate and the new university is on track for a 2022 opening. Therefore, it’s important we continue to support businesses and position Peterborough as a premier location in the UK for ambitious businesses.

Opportunity Peterborough offers free of charge guidance, signposting and connections with knowledge and research centres for local businesses.

On the subject of Opportunity Peterborough, it’s hot off the press that they’ve been awarded £715,000, subject to state aid approval, to set up a smart manufacturing association as a joint venture with the Combined Authority. Manufacturing is one of the city’s biggest sectors – we’re home to giants like Caterpillar Perkins and Baker Perkins as well as smaller cutting-edge firms like Photocentric and Radical Sports Cars.

The association will help the sector stay at the cutting edge and really drive forward innovation. It’s an important part of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough economy too – manufacturing accounted for 13% of our area’s economic growth between 2010 and 2017. (more…)

Plans for a new Northminster

At the moment it seems there is not a week that goes by without there being progress on the redevelopment of our city centre.

Last week plans for the new university were unveiled to the public at the cathedral and just before that we announced that investors are being sought for a revamp of the train station and surrounding land to create a new gateway into the city centre.

This week we announced plans to breathe new life into the Northminster area which includes the City Market, the multi-storey car park which is currently being demolished and Laxton Square.

Northminster is an important part of our city centre but it doesn’t receive the investment and number of visitors it should do currently. Many of the buildings were constructed during the 1970s and are showing their age and a number of restaurant and leisure related businesses have closed down.

We know that without regeneration and investment the area will not improve and we have to do something about it.

We don’t have the money to redevelop the site ourselves, so we’re proposing to transfer it to the Peterborough Investment Partnership (PIP).

The council set up the PIP in 2015 and it has led the transformation of Fletton Quays from a derelict, brownfield site to a scheme which includes office space, apartments and a car park, with a Hilton hotel and a gin and whiskey distillery visitor attraction on its way.

The PIP has done a fantastic job at Fletton Quays and the announcement of plans for a Government hub and the construction of a Hilton hotel are the most recent signs of its success.

Initially it would prepare a concept scheme for the site with a view to securing outline planning approval and attracting private sector development interest and investment.

I know that some readers will be concerned about what this means for our market.

Naturally, the market traders would need to vacate the existing site whilst any redevelopment was taking place, but during this time we would look to provide a market from another location.

market northminster

Going forward, there could be a market on the Northminster site or elsewhere but with plans being at a very early stage it is too soon to speculate.

The existing market is 57 years old and in need of modernisation or replacement. This investment in Northminster will one way or another allow us to achieve that.

This is an exciting time for Peterborough. Our city is thriving and we are ready to work with investors and our communities to drive forward the next stage in Peterborough’s growth.

The next four years will be crucial to delivering a Peterborough that’s an even better place to work, live and play for the next 50 to 100 years. (more…)

Peterborough’s high street declared UK’s most thriving

At a time when many high streets up and down the country are struggling, I was pleased to learn that here in Peterborough we’re bucking the national trend.

Our high street has actually grown by one-per-cent. Yes, I know this doesn’t seem like a massive rise, but due to the changing shopping habits of consumers and the rise of internet shopping, this is quite an achievement in today’s world.

AskTraders which completed the study went on to declare Peterborough as having the No.1 thriving high street by comparing cities based on retail growth, bank openings and number of ATMs.

Bridge street

We know our visitor dwell times (the amount of time people stay in our city centre) is 101 minutes, that’s much better than the UK benchmark of 73 minutes.

And it seems businesses agree with this vote of confidence and are investing in our city at an unprecedented rate – which wouldn’t be happening if they didn’t think they could get their money back.

Not only has John Lewis recently unveiled its £21million revamp – the largest spend on any John Lewis store nationally in 2019, but work will soon begin on a £60million extension to Queensgate, which will deliver a state of the art 10 screen Empire Cinema and the Draper’s Arms refurbishment is due to finish next month.

We also had plenty of new store openings last year, with a good mix of large and small chains and independents, like Deichmann, Swarovski, Tap & Tandoor, Hayes Travel and Bean Around BE.AR coffee shop.

Yes, we have discount stores, coffee shops and vape shops, but if you look at where people are spending their money, that’s what they want.

My point is that I believe high streets will always have a part to play, but they need to change with the times and deliver what their shoppers want in order to stay successful.

And there could be more good news on the way for Peterborough’s high street in the form of a Business Improvement District (BID) later this year.

We are currently asking businesses if they would like to set up a BID and so far we’ve had 141 responses from businesses – 67 per cent want it to happen, with the rest saying they don’t mind and only one respondent saying no.

If it goes ahead it will be business led and could potentially release up to £1.75million over five years for investment in the city, which could be spent on things like additional summer events to boost footfall, more floral displays and extra security in the evenings in the city centre.

If any business would like to be involved please complete the business survey. (more…)

Peterborough – overcoming challenges together

At the time of writing this column I am preparing for a meeting of Full Council where we are due to sign off our first set of budget proposals for 2020/21.

As I have said many times, this year is remarkable because of the very severe financial challenge that we face, but it is also remarkable for another reason – for the support we have received from organisations across the city wanting to help us to continue providing services.

I have been impressed by how our partners in the voluntary sector in particular have not only understood our challenges, but have stepped up to help us.

KingsGate Community Church for example, one of the faith groups who partner together to run Peterborough Foodbank and Carezone, providing furniture and white goods for families in crisis.

Take a look at the council’s social media pages today and you will see a video that we have published showing the excellent work of the volunteers at the church.

After publishing our budget proposals in October, KingsGate got in touch and offered to work with us to be able to remove all council funding for the services they provide from April 2021.

We are very grateful to Kingsgate for providing an incredibly important service to our communities, helping those in the greatest need to end the cycle of poverty.

Other organisations too have shown their support. Age UK has agreed to a reduction in funds for some services and Vivacity will be working with us to further reduce its reliance on council funding. (more…)