Commercial strategy is paying off

This month my Cabinet colleagues and I will be asked to approve the council’s first commercial strategy.

It doesn’t sound the most exciting document I admit, but it’s actually very important as it sets out how we’ll further generate income by selling our services, investing and operating more like a business.

With our government funding only going one way, we couldn’t deliver a balanced budget and provide the services our residents rely upon without generating the income we do.

Last year we made £72million through investments, sharing of services, providing services for other organisations, property rental and fees and charges.

For example, we generated £2.7million by selling the energy produced by our energy from waste plant and our commercial property portfolio which is worth £21million generates an annual income of around £3million – that’s a 14 per cent return.

We share our planning and trading standards departments with other councils, bringing in £4million annually and our £15million loan to Propiteer Hotels Ltd for the building of the new Hilton hotel at Fletton Quays will make us £500,000.

impression fletton quays

Our sharing of services with Cambridgeshire County Council, in particular the chief executive and her senior leadership team, has delivered sizeable savings.

I could go on, but these are just a few of the ways we’re generating income and working in a more commercial way to be able to provide the services you need, despite an 80 per cent cut in our government funding.

And with that funding due to decrease even further in years to come, we have got to find more ways of generating our own income. Our commercial strategy will help us to do that. (more…)

Peterborough’s bright future

Let it grow, let it grow – Fletton grows

We are at an important moment in Peterborough’s future development as a city.

Earlier this year, the first stage of the Fletton Quays development was delivered. It will be complete by 2020.

And just last week, a planning application for North Westgate, which will include office accommodation, homes, cafes, restaurants, a hotel and a public square was signed off by planners.

Future peterborough

These two important milestones, represent a new age for Peterborough, as it looks to transform into a larger city and a destination in its own right.

Over the next 15 years, our population will grow from around 200,000 to 235,000. That’s a massive increase of over 17 per cent.

We are literally building the future. The infrastructure and landmarks our children and our children’s children will come to see as iconic to our city’s look and feel. That’s why it’s important we get it right.

LDA Design is a Peterborough based landscape architect company, which specialises in redeveloping urban areas so they work best for the people that use them.

To give you an idea of their credentials, LDA were the brainchild behind the Olympic Park in London and its post-games transformation, the University College of London’s pioneering new campus and have won hundreds of awards for what they do.

Now they have kindly agreed to lend their services to the council free of charge, to create a 20 page development framework – or blueprint – of what our city should look like in 2035.

As a Peterborough based firm with city born and bred owners, they have a vested interest in making this their most exciting and innovative creation yet.

The blueprint welcomes visitors to our city with a large plaza outside the train station, guides them through North Westgate, through the city centre and out to an arena/concert hall by the river.

After watching 2035’s equivalent of Ed Sheeran, you could then either catch a water taxi to Nene Park, pop up to the new university campus further up the Embankment, or grab a gin a tonic at the distillery at the Fletton Quays development and POSH stadium.

It’s a bold design, packed full of retail, leisure and entertainment features. But it’s one which will help secure our future as a larger city destination, boosting tourism and opportunities for local residents.

The design will be on our website from next week for you to look at and comment on.

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Stadium sale is great news for city

Just a week ago, I took part in a momentous announcement which was live streamed across four social media networks.

Of course, I’m speaking about the news that Peterborough United will buy back the Abax Stadium from the Council.

The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two parties is a significant moment for the club and the city as a whole.

The MOU anticipates the sale to be finalised over the next six months and both the club and the council are committed to working together on this.

From a council perspective, I’m proud we were able to assist the club back in 2010 by buying the land surrounding the stadium to ensure its ownership stayed in the club which, in turn, secured the considerable contribution the club makes to the economy of the city.

The purchase unlocked the development of the area to create the Allia Future Business Centre where over 77 business have thrived. In addition the council has been able to secure one of the few zero carbon residential developments in the country on the Vista site as well as providing much needed affordable homes.

Now the club can move forward with developing the stadium as they look to gain promotion to the Championship.

I’m a Posh supporter myself and my wife Barbara and I went on our first date together at the ground just over 54 years ago, so the club means a lot to me and my family.

I’m sure this deal will help the club to make the progress that they and every single supporter so dearly desires as well as bringing new innovation to the area to support businesses, through the proposed Technology Accelerator – so all I can say is Up the Posh!!

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Helping the local economy grow

It has taken a few months to complete, but I am delighted to say that the new junction in Bourges Boulevard is now finished.

The junction is making it easier for motorists to access the London North Eastern Railway (LNER) car park close to Peterborough railway station, which is heavily used by rail commuters.

Not only that but a new pedestrian crossing which has been installed as part of the work is improving access to and from the city centre.

I went to have a look earlier this week and must say I’m very impressed with the finished work.

Construction got under way back in February and has seen ramped access to the car park created, as well as a right turn lane and carriageway re-surfacing.

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Excited by move to Fletton Quays

As you may be aware, the council is in the process of moving to brand new offices at Fletton Quays and the first teams have already moved in.

We are becoming the site’s anchor tenant, kick-starting an innovative re-development of this prime area alongside the river Nene which had been derelict for over 40 years.

All our teams will be moved in by the end of August and everyone is excited by the prospect of working in a state-of-the-art building.

Sand Martin House

The Fletton Quays development is the first regeneration project delivered on time and within budget by the Peterborough Investment Partnership (PIP), an innovative partnership between Peterborough City Council and GB Strategic Land Fund.

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Now to tackle root cause of problem

On Monday evening it’s our annual full council meeting at the town hall and as usual this will be a significant event.

Not only will we be confirming new appointments, including a new Cabinet member and Mayor, but I’m going to be outlining some exciting new policies which we’ve been busy putting together.

Whilst we were out canvassing ahead of the elections one of the major issues that kept cropping up on the doorsteps was fly-tipping and more specifically what the council is doing to tackle it.

Fly-tipping is a nationwide problem, it happens for a multitude of reasons and it is difficult to tackle as many authorities, not just ourselves, are finding out.

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In position to deal with challenges

Last Wednesday night saw our budget for the next financial year and proposed 5.99 per cent council tax rise (including an Adult Social Care precept of three per cent) approved at full council following debate.

As I have previously stated, due to substantial cuts in funding from central government we are in a position where we have to make difficult decisions.

However, we have worked hard to ensure that vital frontline services such as adult and child social care, waste disposal, libraries, winter gritting, trading standards and prevention and enforcement are maintained.

The decisions that were made around the budget in this meeting will ensure we are in a good position to deal with the financial challenges that will come our way throughout 2018/19 and beyond.

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Roadworks pain will lead to gain

One topic that caused a lot of conversation in Peterborough recently was a plan for an ‘urban beach’ as part of the Fletton Quays development.

The story gathered plenty of reaction after being picked up by the local media, perhaps understandably given I’m pretty sure the words Peterborough and beach have never been mentioned in the same sentence before!

To make it clear, should this proposal for an ‘urban beach’ go ahead it would be funded by Weston Homes, the company behind the build of the apartments at Fletton Quays, and not the city council – as people may have been initially led to believe.

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Vital that we plug gaps in funding

In my previous two blogs I have written about the financial challenges we are facing as a
council.

Challenges we are facing due to our Revenue Support Grant – the main government grant
we receive to support a range of council services – being dramatically cut. In 2013/14 we
received a grant of £55million and this will have reduced to just £10million by 2019/20 – a cut
of £45million over six years.

When you consider it now costs the council £46million every year to provide adult social care
to the elderly and those with disabilities in our city – a figure which will only rise further – it’s
easy to see the size of the challenge.

Austerity has been in place since the turn of the decade and I believe the council has now
reached the stage where we are no longer sufficiently funded to provide the services we
need to deliver for residents. As I’ve said previously, we need a fair funding deal from
government.

I wholeheartedly agree with the editor of the Peterborough Telegraph who said last week
that councils also need to generate income to protect services and to operate more and
more like a business.

Recently there was a debate at Council about loaning money to the developer who’ll build
the Fletton Quays hotel. This will not only accelerate the completion of Fletton Quays but it
also generates income; income which is then used to plug the gap caused by years of cuts
to our funding by government.

Artist's impression of hotel

We are able to borrow money at a lower interest rate, because we’re a council, than the
developer can on the open market. We then loan the money to the developer at a higher
rate of interest to what we borrowed it at, and then after two years the developer pays back
the loan with a six-figure sum of interest. It’s then the profit from this interest which we can
re-invest into council services, such as providing social care support to elderly people in their
own homes.

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Peterborough matters and we need to fight for fairer funding

One of the questions I often get asked is whether the cuts to our government funding have impacted our ability to provide services as severely as some other councils are reporting.

I think that might be because in Peterborough we’ve minimised reductions in services and increases in council tax for residents while still investing in the city and consistently balancing our budget.

The truth is that it differs for every council, with some areas affected worse than others.

I would argue that in Peterborough we are one of the worst affected areas, with our funding from government failing to take into account unprecedented increases in demand or population growth – our funding is simply cut year after year.

Between 2013/14 and 2019/20 our Revenue Support Grant – the main government grant we receive to support a range of services delivered by the council – will have been reduced by 80 per cent.

Graph showing reduction in funding

What would you do if the wages coming into your household reduced by 80 per cent? You could cut out the luxury items, meals out and new clothes, but how would you still pay for all those essential items such as heating, water and food?

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