Businesses – please get in touch if you’re struggling

I don’t think it will be a great surprise if I confess that this third national lockdown is really testing many city residents, myself included.

It’s the start of a New Year which is normally the time for celebrating and looking ahead, but all our lives have been affected by the virus and many things we love doing remain on hold.

One of the many devastating aspects of the pandemic has been the affect on businesses and the uncertainty they face. I regularly speak with local business owners so I know how tough things have been and how hard they are working in difficult conditions.

As a council we are committed to helping businesses and I’m immensely proud that we have distributed over £35.5million in business grants and £41million in business rates relief since the start of the pandemic, with more to come during this latest lockdown.

stacks of coins

Around 2,800 city businesses have benefited from the extra cash, which has been used for everything from paying the rent, to investing in PPE and future proofing their business for a Covid-19 world.

This week the PT spoke to Kai from PKai hair salons in Hampton and Westgate. He told the newspaper that his business wouldn’t have survived without this essential Government funding and that the application to the council was straight forward and quick to receive.

If you are a business that’s struggling financially due to Covid-19, please do get in touch with us and we can check if you meet the eligibility criteria set out by the Government.

You can find out more about the grants scheme on our website.

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Happy New Year for 2021

This is my first column of 2021, so I would like to start off by wishing everyone a happy New Year.

The past twelve months have been a year like no other, resulting in big changes to our daily lives and having to sacrifice some of the things we all love doing.

There is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine rollout continuing but with the new lockdown under way, I must once again implore everyone to follow the guidelines and take extra care.

So to recap the lockdown rules, please don’t invite people into your home who you don’t live with all the time, don’t go out unless it is essential – and when you do take particular care because of this new variant of the virus is so much easier to catch.

Avoid crowded areas, don’t gather together in groups, don’t ignore signs or the advice of our marshals who are out on the streets to help and support you.

You also need to continue to wear face coverings in shops, keep socially distanced and wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.

stay home poster

We appreciate that the current situation is very difficult for some people, and there is support for those who may be lonely or isolated, or who suddenly need very practical support– and I would encourage them to phone the countywide co-ordination hub on 0345 045 5219.

 

For anyone whose mental health is being more severely impacted, there is the Lifeline support number 0808 808 2121 which operates daily from 11am to 11pm and for people with a mental health crisis you can phone the NHS 111 number and ask for Option 2.

Council projects able to progress despite pandemic

Not many of us will look back on 2020 fondly, however there were silver linings like the heart-warming way our communities pulled together to help one another.

There were many unprecedented challenges for the council but at the same time we’ve made great progress on a number of significant projects.

Our ambitious regeneration plans moved forward at pace over the past year and will play a key role in ensuring Peterborough remains a great place to live, work and play for many years to come.

Fletton Quays is one of our proudest achievements, featuring our council’s offices and hundreds of state-of-the-art apartments. The site’s development is coming along nicely with work on the new Hilton hotel progressing, along with the construction of a government hub, set to be completed in 2022.

Construction of our new university is also under way and the benefits it will bring to our city and the region will be enormous and last for generations.

Our ambition is to launch a job creating, employment-focussed university that will deliver courses targeted specifically towards industries across Peterborough where demand currently outstrips availability of skilled workers.

The university is on track to open in September 2022, catering initially for 2,000 students, with numbers projected to rise to 5,000 by 2025 and 12,500 by 2030.

Meanwhile, our exciting work to redevelop Northminster is moving forward and we hope to submit a planning application later this year, so watch this space.

Towns Fund to be dedicated to five key projects

Another significant achievement of the past year was our successful bid to the government’s Towns Fund, granting us £22.9 million. The funds are earmarked for the following five key projects which we are moving forwards:

  • Riverside Development and Connections – Creating a masterplan for the Embankment, the new University campus and Middleholme.
  • New and improved visitor and cultural attractions – These include a new library and cultural facilities for the city, as well as improved visitor attractions.
  • Developing the Station Quarter – Creating a welcoming route from the train station into the city centre and opening up space for new homes and offices.
  • Enterprise and Skills infrastructure – Building a new enterprise training and business incubation hub to support new city businesses and start-ups, and a training centre for green technology skills.
  • Future green city – Creating safer, easily accessible routes for pedestrians and cyclists to the train station and city centre from key sites around the city.

These projects have been specifically designed to increase the wellbeing of residents, boost visitor numbers and adhere to the city’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Peterborough’s time really is now and we are fully committed to creating a city of growth, prosperity and opportunity.

A huge thanks to our key workers

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank all of our key workers, council staff and dedicated band of volunteers for their sterling efforts over the past year.

So many of our residents are key workers – doctors, nurses, police officers, social workers, supermarket workers and many, many other professions – they all deserve special praise and their continued efforts in these difficult times are truly invaluable.

As always you can rest assured we will continue to work to keep you safe and keep the city moving forwards.

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…)

Construction of ARU Peterborough begins

Our exciting regeneration plans for Peterborough are the most ambitious this city has seen for decades and a real source of personal pride.

A key part of these plans is ARU Peterborough, the city’s new £30 million university and this week marked the very start of its construction.

On Tuesday I gathered with James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and Professor Roderick Watkins, Vice Chancellor of ARU, for a special sod cutting ceremony at the site.

Sod cutting

Despite the freezing conditions this event really warmed my heart because it felt like such a significant moment in the project, which has been several years in the making.

I can’t wait to see ARU constructed and the benefits it will bring to our city and the region will be enormous and last for generations to come.

Our ambition is to launch a job creating, employment-focussed university that will deliver courses targeted specifically towards industries across Peterborough where demand currently outstrips availability of skilled workers.

The university is on track to open in September 2022, catering initially for 2,000 students, with numbers projected to rise to 5,000 by 2025 and 12,500 by 2030.

In the first five years after opening, it will create an initial 170 university jobs and 300 supply chain jobs, in addition to 50 temporary construction jobs while it is being built.

The ARU is part of our commitment to ensuring Peterborough is a great place to live, work and relax for years to come.

With the Fletton Quays development progressing at pace, the city centre recently transformed and the regeneration of the Station Quarter, North Westgate and Northminster all in the pipeline, the city’s time really is now. (more…)

School safety remains top priority for council

The Covid 19 pandemic has created many challenges for the council and our communities, in particular our schools, colleges and early years settings.

We want all our young people to be inside classrooms and gaining from that invaluable environment to learn, develop and grow.

Everyone involved in education has faced unprecedented pressures, so I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to all our teachers, staff, pupils and parents for their sterling efforts.

Schools across the city are pulling out all the stops to ensure that young people are getting the education they need and we will continue to support them.

The safety of our children, their families and our school staff remains one of our top priorities. We checked each school’s Covid-19 health and safety plans prior to opening in September and attendance remains high, consistently in the top 20 per cent in the country.

Feedback from teachers is that after putting safety procedures into place, many pupils are enforcing social distancing themselves. This is shown in the relatively low numbers who are self-isolating with 1,056 out of over 35,000 students currently, which is in line with the national average.

For pupils that are self-isolating we are ensuring they have access to home learning. I have three grandchildren at local schools who are currently self-isolating but thankfully they can still learn from home – the wonders of modern technology!

The experience of being in a classroom with a teacher and other pupils is so vital for children, so we will continue to actively work with schools to help keep them open.

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Take action to save Peterborough from rising Covid-19 levels

This year we’ve seen residents across the city pull together on many occasions to help one another and to encourage others to follow the rules to reduce rates of the virus.

I strongly believe it is this sense of community spirit, which makes Peterborough such a great place to live and work, which has helped to keep our rates of the virus below many other places across the country.

It is this same spirit and determination that we need to see once again from our communities, with Coronavirus now spreading across Peterborough at the highest rate we have seen since the first lockdown.

Currently we are seeing more than 200 people per 100,000 infected with the virus and it’s affecting people across the whole city – all age groups and backgrounds. Worryingly, we are seeing more people over 60 catching the virus who are potentially at greater risk.

Unfortunately, quite a few people got infected in the week before lockdown started – going out to ‘beat the lockdown’.  This is understandable, but as we warned you at the time, it means we now have further to go to halt its progress. And because of this we all need to do more.

This week our Director of Public Health, Dr Liz Robin, issued a video blog urging people to take action now to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our health services. If you haven’t seen it, please watch it on our YouTube channel.

I will reiterate her advice, because we are now seeing more people in our hospital and they are sicker than they were before, so we need to work harder to prevent our figures from spiralling out of control.

You must:

  • Reduce contact with people outside of your own household to the absolute minimum, as this is how the virus is passed on.
  • Only leave home for essential reasons – to go to school, college or work if you cannot work from home, for medical or safety reasons, to get food and other essential shopping, or to provide care for others.
  • Work from home if at all possible.
  • Self-isolate if you test positive or are a contact of someone who is – there’s lots of support to help you do this, so there’s really no reason not to.

If we don’t take action now we risk more people getting sick and potentially dying – and not just from Coronavirus. The increased pressure on hospitals and health services will affect us all.

News of a potential vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel – but it will be months before it can help us all and we need to all make a final push for Peterborough now and stop Covid in its tracks.

A Virtual Christmas Switch-on

Normally at this time of year we’d be preparing to welcome thousands of people to the city centre for our Christmas lights switch on.

Our 40ft Spruce Christmas tree is already in Cathedral Square, but sadly the public switch-on cannot take place due to the pandemic.

However, residents can still get into the festive spirit with a virtual Christmas lights switch-on instead. The 15 minute pre-recorded event will be streamed online across our digital platforms on Wednesday 2 December at 7pm.

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Community Radio presenter Kev Lawrence will once again be hosting the switch-on and there will be special appearances from local guests.

xmas switch on

Please don’t turn up to this event – it is being pre-recorded to avoid large crowds gathering.

Once Peterborough reopens, subject to government restrictions being lifted, there will also be fairground rides from 2 December as well as a Christmas craft market from 2-6 December.

POSH in Parliament

I was delighted last week to see the national spotlight shining on the council and Peterborough United Football Club in the Houses of Parliament no less.

During a parliamentary debate, North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara highlighted the economic and health and wellbeing benefits of bringing spectators back to football grounds, even in a limited capacity, once lockdown restrictions are eased.

He also invited Nigel Huddleston MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to visit Peterborough, an offer he is very keen to take up.

posh logo

In addition, he said that opening the stadium – even in a limited way – would benefit the club in celebrating the life and career of Posh legend Tommy Robson.

Tommy, who made a record 559 first team appearances for the Posh, sadly passed away last month. Earlier this year he was given the Freedom of the City for his phenomenal contribution to the club, as well as his dedicated charity work.

We will continue to work closely with the football club and MP Vara to promote the many benefits that our much-loved football club delivers to the city.

We will also continue to work with the club to see what we can do locally to remember Tommy and his incredible achievements.

Temporary car park on former Northminster site

Finally, a reminder that our new temporary car park on the site of the former Northminster multi storey car park has opened to the public.

We’ve opened the car park to give residents, shoppers and businesses a helping hand in the run up to Christmas and are confident it will help the city centre to thrive once lockdown restrictions are eased.

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

Council’s new homes target exceeded

As regular readers will be aware, I take great pride in the recent development of our city and our ambitious regeneration plans which will ensure we continue to grow bigger and better.

We are one of the fastest growing cities in the country – ample proof that Peterborough is a place people want to come to live and work in.

Our rapid growth presents challenges, arguably the biggest of which is ensuring enough homes are being built to cope with demand.

I’m pleased to say that the number of new homes built in Peterborough in the past year has exceeded the targets we set ourselves.

In total 1,145 new homes were built in the city between April 2019 and March 2020, well above our local plan target of 942.

Delivering good quality housing is key to our vision for making Peterborough an even better place for us all to live, work and relax.

It also reinforces the confidence we and others have in our city and will go a long way in attracting increased investment from developers, retailers and the government.

This comes alongside the regeneration of Fletton Quays, the multi-million redevelopment of Queensgate Shopping Centre including a multi-screen Empire Cinema and plans for a new university in 2022 to boost the economic prosperity of our young.

As I always say, Peterborough’s time is now and there so much for us to look forward to.

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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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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…)