Celebrating the Year of Reading

Reading is one of the most important skills that you can teach a child and will define how well they achieve educationally and throughout their whole lives.

Barbara and I would read to our children every day when they were young until they were old enough to read for themselves. Even then we would encourage them by buying books and taking them to the library, which I do now with my grandchildren.

The other morning on my way into work I listened to a report on the radio about the level of disadvantage experienced by a child at school if they have not been read to from a young age. Many of them will struggle more than children who have experience of reading and may never make up this delay in their learning.

In Peterborough reading levels are lower than the national average. I want that to change, and quickly, so that every child in the city has the same opportunities to share a love of reading. That is why we launched Vision for Reading last year with our partners at the National Literacy Trust, Vivacity and City College Peterborough.

The campaign asks everyone in the city – teachers, parents, businesses and others – to play their part in helping children to develop a lifelong love of reading which in turn will improve their life chances.

Boys reading books

As part of it we’re supporting parents to prepare their children for school by, for example, reading to them at home, we’re training reading buddies in schools who can read with children and we’re celebrating the Year of Reading which launches on 22 June.

Everyone is invited to attend the launch in Cathedral Square between 10am and 4pm where there will be storytelling, free books to take home, activities and more.

The event kicks off a year-long programme of events that will include The Space Chase summer reading challenge, Roald Dahl Day in September, writing competitions and story trails. You can find out more by visiting www.peterboroughcelebrates.org.uk.

The year will culminate with a striking trail of book-shaped benches across Peterborough created by schools, community groups and businesses in association with creative producers Wild in Art.

Whether you’re a parent, business owner, or teacher, please support our campaign to get every child in the city enjoying books from a young age. For our children it will lead to improved life chances and for our businesses it will mean a better qualified workforce of the future.

Raising reading levels will always be harder for us in Peterborough than for many other areas because of the number of different languages spoken in our schools and a higher than usual number of children starting and leaving school mid-year.

But it is a challenge that we must meet and together I believe that we can. (more…)

All eyes on Peterborough as by-election approaches

With the by-election for the Peterborough parliamentary seat taking place next Thursday the national spotlight is firmly on our great city.

So it’s no surprise that I’m taking calls from national journalists, who being London-centric, want to find out more about Peterborough and have looked to me to enlighten them.

And I have enjoyed doing so as it’s allowed me to promote our city on a national stage and to show what a great place it is to start or relocate a business or family, or to visit for a day trip or an overnight stay.

If I had a pound for every time someone told me they visited the city ten years ago and how much it has changed for the better in that time I would be a rich man. But the reality is that it has.

Our city centre has been transformed, with new and regenerated areas for people to sit and watch the world go by, new shops and restaurants. On a sunny day, like we had last week, Cathedral Square comes alive and with the iconic cathedral and the Guild Hall too it’s a fantastic place to spend time. The redevelopment of Fletton Quays, one of the most prestigious riverside developments in the country, is on target and there are firm plans in place to transform North Westgate.

Cathedral square

We have new businesses launching and expanding all the time creating. In 2017/18, the latest figures we have, 4,575 new jobs were created in the city, meaning our unemployment rate is below the national average.

We are supporting house building in every quarter of the city to give us enough homes of every kind to support our residents and those wanting to move here. We’ve rebuilt or expanded every secondary school in the city.

Our road and rail links mean that we are well connected to London, Birmingham, many of the airports – you can now commute to London within 39 minutes.

Of course, growth on the scale we are seeing brings its challenges – it is these challenges that many of the candidates standing in the by-election next week are mentioning on the doorstep.

Many of these issues – poverty, not enough housing for those in need to name just two, could all be helped if we received a proper level of funding from government.

We are having to do so much more with less money – as the fifth fastest growing city in the country with the sixth highest birth rate, that’s no small task.

But as I said in last week’s column, we will continue to keep a close eye on the areas where we know our residents say they need us the most, ensuring that our most vulnerable residents are protected and supported, but also ensuring that our city provides everyone with the opportunity to achieve their goals.

Whoever wins the Peterborough by-election and represents half of our city in Parliament, we need them to understand the huge financial challenges that we face and how they can support us in campaigning for additional funding.

So when you are voting next week, think not about the party the person represents, but about the person that is best for Peterborough and building a better future.

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Peterborough’s people’s company is progressing 

Following the landmark decision taken by our cabinet in December, we are on track to set up our first Local Authority Trading Company.

This signals a major new direction for delivering many council services and will be a ‘people’s company’ improving the services we provide for residents and businesses across the city.

We are now working with staff to deliver a new company that invests in them and the services we provide.

The transfer of services will follow a phased approach: First to launch is building cleaning, then passenger transport and waste and recycling collections in April. Finally, building maintenance, street cleansing and grounds maintenance in May.

bin lorry

This will help to manage the complexity and scale of the task which involves the transferring of 449 employees, and all the assets and vehicles associated with these services. It will ensure a smooth transfer and minimal disruption for residents. (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.

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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.

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Plenty to be excited about

I was delighted to hear that this year’s A-Level results are above the national average for pupils achieving passes for the fourth year in a row.

With results received from all of the city’s 11 secondary schools who had students sitting A-Levels this year, the overall pass rate has remained above the national average at 98.2 per cent, with the national average standing at 97.6 per cent.

The proportion of students achieving higher grades has remained high, with 44.7 per cent of pupils in city schools achieving A* to B grades, sustaining last year’s improvement compared to 42.4 % in 2016.

So I would like to say a big well done to all pupils who collected their results and the their teachers. It’s an exciting time as A-levels open many doors, whether you are remaining in education, taking a training course or entering the world of work.

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Anti-social neighbours take note

Nobody likes noisy neighbours and as a council we take any complaints of anti-social behaviour extremely seriously.

We will always look to take action where appropriate and last week our housing enforcement team successfully secured a court closure order which will see two homes in Lincoln Road closed for the next three months.

In this case, the nearby neighbours had had to put up with terrible behaviour by the tenants in the homes for quite some time.

Our officers were able to gather evidence to show the tenants were up to no good, with their illegal activities including drug use and prostitution.

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Major step forward for city university

This is the week that devolution started to produce real, tangible benefits for the city and our residents.

An important reason for backing a devolution deal for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough was to establish an independent university in the city.

Well, one of the first major funding announcements from the Combined Authority is set to be  £6.5million to accelerate the establishment of the University of Peterborough.

I believe a university is vital for the prosperity of the city for a number of reasons including creating opportunities for our young people and developing a better skilled workforce for employers. It will also create jobs and provide the most important boost to the local economy for a generation.

I must stress that to develop a renowned university that attracts students from across the UK to the city, and eventually from around the world, will take time.

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Ensuring we can all enjoy our city

I am proud of the way our city centre looks with many areas surrounding Cathedral Square having recently undergone upgrades and renovation.

With this inviting city centre it is important that we make it a place that everyone is able to enjoy, setting a good impression to residents and visitors alike, and this means ensuring any anti-social behaviour is at an absolute minimum.

This week we announced that an order to give our enforcement officers additional powers to deal with anti-social behaviour is likely to be implemented next month.

It will be an area for the SaferPeterborough Prevention and Enforcement Service team to take forward and the order will give officers the ability to issue a fixed penalty notice to perpetrators of unacceptable behaviour such as littering, begging and unauthorised cycling on Bridge Street.

Other offences under this Public Spaces Protection Order will include spitting, dangerous cycling and drinking in public and fines will be set at £80 with an early repayment option of £60.

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