City praised for tackling drinking culture

I was really encouraged to see a Public Health England report this week which praised our efforts in reducing alcohol related hospital admissions.

Every town and city in the country has problems with people drinking alcohol to excess – you only have to watch the television to know this. I remember a few years back regularly reading reports in this newspaper about individuals causing chaos on a Friday and Saturday night at A&E whilst intoxicated, threatening staff and other patients.

Reducing the number of alcohol related hospital admissions was the number one goal within the 2016-19 Peterborough Health and Wellbeing strategy, a document that partners across the city signed up to.

The figures in the Public Health England report that landed on my desk this week, show we have gone from being one of the worst performing cities for hospital admissions for alcohol related conditions to in-line with the national average.

There has been a big reduction in both men and women being treated for such conditions, so much so that the 622 admissions observed by staff at Peterborough City Hospital in 2017/18 was the lowest seen in the city since 2009/10.

This is a huge success and is the result of partners across the city working together with one goal in mind.

In recent years a significant amount of work has taken place to ensure those drinking high-risk levels of alcohol are offered the support and intervention they need to avoid repeated visits to hospital and long-term health issues.

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Looking forward: Peterborough University and Doubling Green Spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concerns raised as schools battle budget cuts

There’s not a day that goes by when we don’t hear about a council, school, police force or health service struggling to make ends meet.

Just recently there’s been a national focus on schools with reports of headteachers having to make difficult decisions, such as finishing the school day early, making teachers redundant and cutting spending on books.

Nationally the pressure on schools is starting to show and Peterborough is no different. Across the country around 60 per cent of schools are said to be in that difficult situation of spending more than their income. Pupil numbers have increased by ten per cent since 2010 whilst teacher numbers have remained largely the same.

In Peterborough, there has been government investment in education in recent years, but significant cost pressures and a sizeable increase in pupil numbers mean that in real terms schools are managing on a reduced budget. Between 2010 and 2018 our pupil numbers have increased by 26 per cent since, that’s 7,892 extra pupils.

Schools have done a tremendous job despite the pressures and have kept a close eye on the financial situation, meaning that pupils here have not experienced some of the changes we have seen taking place elsewhere. But headteachers and governing bodies may not be far away from having to take more drastic action such as this if the government does not provide better financial support. 

Recently we wrote to every headteacher in the city to assess the level of impact that funding cuts have had on schools. About 75 per cent of schools have responded and some of the things they are telling us is that they are increasing class sizes, cutting certain subjects from the curriculum such as drama, using apprentices to cover roles and reducing the number of teaching assistants. There are also cases of headteachers teaching classes when there are not enough teachers to cover and some of our schools are sharing equipment such as lawnmowers.

These examples make it clear that we are following the same path as other parts of the country where schools have had to take more drastic action such as making teachers redundant. It the funding situation is not addressed, it could impact our children’s education as well as their future prospects.

Councillor Lynne Ayres, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, education, skills and university, will now be using the responses from headteachers to write a letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds MP to demand a meeting with him and his officials to make him aware of the very serious situation in Peterborough and the need for additional funding for schools.

Let’s hope he takes the situation seriously, not just in Peterborough, but across the country as a whole.

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Adult Education on the rise

If you’re a regular reader of this column you will know how important it is to me that we are able to offer children the best possible education. I know it’s a cliche, but the future of our city, and our world for that matter, is in their hands.

But education isn’t just for the young, it’s just as important that we offer the chance for people of all ages to widen their skills to increase the opportunities available to them and to support employers who need people with the skills and qualifications to fill roles.

If you think of adult education, what may spring to mind is people taking classes to learn new hobbies or brushing up on a foreign language ahead of a trip abroad. Such courses are only part of the overall offering.

The £11.5 million budget for adult education in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough was this year devolved from central Government to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, providing the ability to deliver something much more ambitious.

As chairman of the combined authority’s Skills Committee, I can vouch for the hard work that has gone in to rethinking how we spend that money.

We know in Peterborough there are people who cannot apply for some jobs because they don’t have the right skills. Equally, we have many businesses which struggle to find people with the right skills. Adult education is the answer to both these problems.

The combined authority is working with learning providers to use adult education funding to target the 13.6 per cent of the Peterborough population that currently have no qualifications. 

By giving low-skilled, low-paid working adults training, they will be able to use this learning to secure better paying and more stable jobs. 

Integral to this is working with employers to see what kinds of skills they need from our population. So in Peterborough, adult education will offer courses in logistics, warehousing and storage. There will be courses in the health and care sector, including adult social care, and broader courses in business skills as well as qualifications in English and mathematics.

We are also asking learning providers to be more flexible, offering courses in the evenings or part-time so that they are open to all.

Adult education for leisure and pleasure should not be underestimated. It brings enjoyment, social interaction and keeps minds active.

But a shifting of the focus to what happens to learners as a result of their course will provide better balance to how we spend money on adult education.

The potential is vast, and if we get this right, we are in a strong position to secure even more funding from Government to help even more people gain skills and qualifications. 

The implementation of this across Peterborough and Cambridgeshire will come later this summer, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the results. (more…)

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…)

Mental Health Week – Awareness and Support

There’s been lots in the news this week about mental health awareness and how we can all help people who might be suffering in silence.

As leader of the council I see examples all the time of the impact mental health problems can have on people’s lives, so I’m always pleased to see the issue being highlighted.

For example, our housing needs team regularly come into contact with people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness because their lives have been affected by mental health problems. Without support this can lead to relationship issues.

Our social workers support young people who are struggling to achieve their full potential, residents who are finding it hard to be good parents and adults who are struggling to lead independent lives. These challenges can often be a result of mental health problems.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the importance of talking about mental health is being emphasised – how listening cannot be underestimated, and how each and every one of us has the power to make a difference to someone’s life.

What always concerns me is that it is often not obvious when someone is suffering, in the way it is with a physical disability.

Many years ago I had an uncle who was affected by the war and his mental health suffered as a result. There was no support for him and he was never fully recovered.

Back then no one knew what to do – we didn’t even know what to call it. As a result, my uncle was partly ostracised, not because people didn’t care, but because they felt uncomfortable around him. On the rare occasions that anyone did talk about what had happened, my uncle was described as having ‘had a funny turn after the war’.

In the decades that passed, I’ve seen a shift in how people with stress, PTSD, anxiety and depression are treated. The fact these conditions now have names and people feel comfortable talking about them in their homes, the media and on the street shows you how far we have come. (more…)

Peterborough’s post-election priorities

Last week’s local elections saw the Conservative Party remain as the largest overall party on the council.

I would like to say a big thank you to those who voted and everybody involved in the organisation of the elections.

The council’s elections team has worked tirelessly in recent weeks and they were helped by hundreds of dedicated folk who staffed polling stations and counted votes on the night, so a big well done to you all.

Our focus now turns to the year ahead and delivering the services that residents told us were important to them when we were knocking on doors in the run up to the elections.

election count

Top of our agenda will be those residents who need our help the most – so keeping children and young people safe and allowing them to reach their potential and supporting adults and older people who need our help to remain living independent and happy lives.

We will continue to work closely with our schools to support them to attract good quality teachers and raise attainment levels. Plans for a university continue to progress and within a year I would expect to see planning permission in place for the university campus building on the embankment.

People who are in housing difficulty remain our priority and we will be working with them to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place and where this is not possible, supporting them to find suitable accommodation. We will also continue to support new house building projects so that we have a good supply of housing of all tenures coming forward to meet the needs of our growing city.

I know that the cleanliness of the city is a priority for our residents and that’s why we launched our own trading company to provide waste collection, street cleansing and other services. Doing so has given us more control over the way these services are provided.

We will continue to invest in our roads and cycleways, particularly in areas of the city where we are experiencing high levels of growth, so that people can continue to travel around our city with ease.

I also want us to work more closely with our residents so that they can help us to improve our communities. We are seeing good examples of this across the city, such as the Good Neighbours Scheme in Castor which supports the elderly. I believe we can help encourage many more initiatives like this, therefore putting our communities at the heart of everything we do.

There is much work to be done over the next 12 months to ensure we can continue providing the services that our residents need, against a backdrop of ever decreasing government funding and the need to make millions of pounds of savings.

As the largest party on the council, with support from our fellow opposition members, I believe that we can meet the challenge. (more…)

A university is closer than ever

Anyone who knows me will tell you how committed I am to seeing a fully fledged-university in Peterborough.

It’s the single biggest thing we can do to stop our talented young people from leaving to build their lives elsewhere and ensures that our businesses have a good crop of people with the skills and talent they need to apply for jobs.

We’re closer than ever to there being a dedicated Peterborough University. University Centre Peterborough (UCP) is continuing to work towards gaining degree awarding powers and research is ongoing into the type of courses which will meet the needs of students and businesses. An appraisal is also underway of the Bishop’s Road site where the development of a new campus for up to 2,000 students is proposed.

pboro uni

Developing an independent university is an exciting but complex process and although I would like it to happen tomorrow, it takes time to achieve.

In the meantime, the number of people studying degrees in the city is increasing year on year, with double the number of young people from our schools starting a degree with UCP in 2018 compared to the year before. That’s fantastic news and proof that more of our young people are improving their career options.

I was also impressed to hear that more than 250 students graduated last year with good numbers achieving the higher grades. Eighty-eight per cent of integrated engineering students and 57 per cent of sociology students achieved a first class honours, which is fantastic.

The undergraduate provision at UCP has also continued to grow with the launch of new degrees in digital arts, digital marketing, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical and manufacturing engineering and five new business management degrees.

Having a fully-fledged university will result in significant economic benefits for the whole city, and at the rate we’re progressing, it may not be that far into the future that we achieve it.

Click here for more information about the degree courses available in Peterborough.
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So much achieved over past year

Let me start off by wishing you all a happy new year.

Early January is a great time for reflection and setting new goals or resolutions for the year ahead.

With that in mind, I thought I’d use this column to look back over the past 12 months.

The past year really has flown by, and I think that’s a sure sign that we’ve got on with business and achieved many of our goals.

One of my proudest moments of 2018 was seeing the opening of the council’s new office building at Fletton Quays.

Cutting cake at opening ceremony

Sand Martin House is a fantastic modern facility, which fully feels like home now to the many staff who moved across there in the late summer and autumn.

Fletton Quays continues to develop at pace, with building work continuing on high quality apartments, a Hilton Garden Inn hotel, leisure and retail offerings.

It’s on schedule to be finished in 2020 and once complete will show everyone that Peterborough is ready for business and investment.

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Much to be proud of in the city

As an expanding city, we have our fair share of new homes, extensions and developments.

So it is only right that the city was recognised at the Local Authority Building Control regional awards ceremony last week with one winning entry and five finalist places.

Scott’s Farm, a private cul-de-sac in Glinton, built by Rutland based firm, Hereward Homes scooped a gold award in the Best Small New Housing Development category. Peterborough also scored highly in many other categories too.

It was also a finalist in several categories including Best Inclusive Building for the Cross Keys Homes Lapwing Court building used as social housing for over 55s, Best Education Building for Hampton Gardens Secondary School and Best Extension for 20 High Street, Glinton.

While attending the ceremony with our head of planning, I met with many developers across the region which were impressed with our city’s growth and regeneration over the last 10 years.

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