Peterborough to receive exceptional financial support from Government

This week we had some very welcome news from Government with ministers confirming they have understood our unique situation and pressures by accepting our request for exceptional financial support.

It came as a huge relief, with there being little more we could have done to make the savings needed to deliver a balanced budget in 2021/22, after spending much of the past decade making our services as efficient as possible and maximising the income that we generate.

pound sign

Robert Jenrick and his team at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have confirmed they will be offering the council an additional £4.8m to support with the current year’s Covid-19 related costs, and up to £20m for 2021/22 through the awarding of a Capitalisation Direction. In layman’s terms this allows us to borrow money to fund revenue costs, i.e. to pay for those day-to-day services we provide, something we are not usually allowed to do. With this support from Government, we can now present to members a way to set a legal balanced budget in 2021/22.

In allowing us a Capitalisation Direction, MHCLG has recognised that the council has done everything it can to deliver much-needed services efficiently and they have trust in us to continue meeting the needs of our residents.

It’s not an intervention as has happened in other councils where the Government has felt they don’t have a firm grip of their financial situation. In our case, it has been accepted that we have done what we can – but the growth of the city and the needs of our population have outstripped the amount of money currently available to us.

The past year has been one of the most challenging I have ever experienced in local government – it will also have been one of the most challenging for many of our residents and businesses.

I am proud of the services we have provided – the support we have provided to so many – but of course all of that comes at a cost. The support from the Government for those extra costs has been fantastic, but of course it’s the hidden costs that have made the challenge of setting a budget that much higher. It’s the savings and transformation proposals we had planned for this year to save us money in future years which we have not been able to implement. It’s the income we have lost in council tax, business rates and parking revenue.

With support from our two local MPs Paul Bristow and Shailesh Vara, who have argued our case at the highest levels of Government, we have been successful in getting the approval we needed for exceptional financial support. I’m also pleased that in our feedback from MHCLG there was praise for our fantastic finance team and the council’s political administration.

However, our discussions with Government continue so that we can find a longer-term solution to the annual budget setting challenge that we and so many councils face.

As demand for our services continues to rise we need to find a way to ensure that ongoing funding for Peterborough is sufficient to support those core services we all rely on.

The Government has made a commitment to identify a fairer way to award funding for councils and we look forward to working closely with them on this.

The support put forward by MHCLG and other proposals as part of our phase two budget will be published tomorrow (Friday) and you’ll be able to read them on our website. Members will then be able to vote on options for a balanced budget in 2021/22 at the council’s budget setting Full Council meeting on 3 March.

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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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Join us for #PboroMarchForth day

Next Wednesday, I will join hundreds of city residents in ‘marching forth’ for the environment, by taking part in the city’s first ever Climate Action Day.

You might remember that back in July, Peterborough City Council declared a climate emergency and committed to reducing its carbon emissions to zero by 2030. Since then we’ve had a cross party working group looking at different activities, projects and awareness raising events that could help us achieve this.

Our Climate Action Day event is something the whole city can take part in. It’s held on March 4 and we are calling it – yep, you’ve guessed it – March Forth for the environment.

As part of March Forth we are asking residents to make a personal pledge to change one aspect of their daily routine for a full 24 hours to reduce their carbon emissions.

This could be going vegan for the day, walking to work or making a pledge to use zero plastic.

By challenging people to ‘have a go’ at reducing their climate emissions for just 24 hours, we hope to show just how easy it is and hopefully inspire some of you to continue your challenges either long-term or for a couple of days a week over the next year.

There will be lots of prominent city residents and businesses taking part, such as city firefighters, the police, Peterborough United, Peterborough Civic Society and of course, journalists from the Peterborough Telegraph.

And I strongly urge you all to make your own personal pledges for the day and to share updates on how you are getting on using the #PboroMarchForth hashtag throughout the day.

I’ll be going vegan for the day and while I think it will be fairly easy for lunch and dinner, I’m struggling at the moment to think about how to replace my morning cereal and milk.

I know there’s various dairy free milks out there at the moment, but there’s so many it’s confusing and I have no idea which ones go well with fruit and fibre branflakes. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

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Why we want St Michael’s Gate

On Monday we announced plans to purchase 72 homes on St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell.

It’s a decision we thought long and hard about, after being offered the chance to buy them by current owners Stef and Philips, but it’s one that makes complete sense financially and for the people of our city in housing difficulty and I will tell you why.

Firstly, it allows us to continue offering these homes as temporary accommodation to people in need for many years to come. The alternative would be more expensive bed and breakfast accommodation which doesn’t meet our aspiration to offer everyone their own front door. Since we agreed to lease the properties in 2016 we have been able to provide temporary accommodation to almost 400 families at St Michael’s Gate.

Secondly, it makes good financial sense and immediately saves the council money. Owning these properties rather than leasing them saves £600,000 a year. 

Thirdly, if we didn’t choose to buy these homes, someone else would. Perhaps another council with a housing shortage as severe as ours looking for somewhere to place their homeless families, or a developer wanting to redevelop the land.

I understand that councillor Shaz Nawaz, leader of the labour group, has commented about the fact we are paying above the valuation price for these properties. It is true, we are, but for the many good reasons stated above.

We respect and understand the valuation, but we also know that a property’s real value is in fact what someone will pay for it, and if we did not buy them another council would. In addition, if other councils were using these properties to house their homeless families, we would then be providing council services for all of these families, placing further burden on our already stretched budgets.

Councillor Nawaz has also recommended that we should have bought these properties back in 2016. I’ve got news for him – we never had the chance! The first we knew about them was when we were offered them for rental by Stef and Philips three years ago.

I am pleased to say that we are also setting aside money to install new windows for the residents. Over the past year we’ve made a variety of repairs and modernisations, including new boilers and heating systems in all homes, paid for by the Local Enterprise Advice Partnership (LEAP) fund. 

Providing enough homes for everyone in our city has been one of our biggest challenges in recent times, because of the steep and sudden rise in demand. But our homeless strategy is working – we no longer have to house homeless families out of the area and the number of families in B&B accommodation has been reduced from 146 in September 2018 to 73

This has been achieved by working with hundreds of families at risk of homelessness – with the aim of keeping them in their own homes, by working with our partners to build hundreds of new homes, by buying 51 homes on the open market and by working with landlords to secure an additional 48 homes.

But if we don’t act now to purchase one of the largest sites used for temporary accommodation in the city, we risk losing the ground we have worked so hard to gain in recent times. (more…)

Peterborough’s empowered community

Not so long ago the services we provided for residents were largely paid for by the government or by people like you as council tax.

Times have changed – our main government grant now makes up just 2.47 per cent of our total budget.

Nowadays almost a fifth of our budget – £72million to be exact – is money generated by the council, to fund the vital services that we provide for an ever expanding population. 

We do this by, for example, selling the energy produced from our energy from waste plant, renting out our buildings and sharing expert teams such as trading standards and planning with other councils.

On Monday cabinet members will be discussing a scheme that has generated the council a hefty profit and offered some of our residents free energy.

Almost five years ago we partnered with Empower Community Management LLP to deliver solar panels on residential properties across the city and the UK, investing £23million capital funding in the process.

It’s been a real success story for the council, with thousands of residents benefitting from the installation of solar panels at no cost to themselves and free energy. Importantly, it’s also generated a hefty return on our investment – £2.6million in the past four years. This is money we have been able to use to provide valuable front-line services for residents at a time when government funding has been drastically reduced and demand for services has grown rapidly.

fitting solar panels

The loan was only ever short term – that’s the reason we have received such a good rate of return on it – and we are now close to passing our investment in this scheme to a company that will repay our loan and continue to manage the solar panels to the benefit of those already signed up.

Without income generating projects such as this, we couldn’t deliver a balanced budget and provide the services that you and thousands of other residents rely upon.

We’ve got plenty more ideas too, which I will tell you about as soon as I am able. (more…)

Extra funding secures Peterborough’s bright future

In last week’s column I spoke about the urgent need for an uplift in our government funding to allow us to continue meeting the growing needs of our residents.

In the space of three days we received two announcements about millions of pounds of extra funding that could be coming our way for things like schools, care for the elderly and regeneration.

I’d like to say that the government is an avid reader of the Peterborough Telegraph and responded directly to my column, but in reality I think it’s the result of persistent pleas from this council and many others across the country for urgent recognition of the desperate funding shortages in local government. 

In the Spending Round announced in Parliament last Wednesday we learned that extra money will be provided for education, adult social care and homelessness – in all these areas we have seen huge rises in demand. 

The number of people reporting to us as homeless in particular rose by 43 per cent in 2016/17 and has continued to rise ever since. We’re doing lots to meet this challenge – buying our own homes, partnering with Cross Keys Homes on a joint venture to build homes and working with landlords to make more homes available for rent, but we desperately need more funding to meet the growing need.

We’re yet to know exactly how much extra we will receive in each area, but for education we expect to see an additional £2.9million for schools. This is great news, but of course schools will need to factor pay increases and inflation into that which reduces the net gain. We also expect to receive in the region of £2.4m to provide education for children with special educational needs.

Then on Friday we received further good news from the government that we are one of a number of areas chosen to bid for funding of up to £25million from the New Towns fund.

It’s a further example of how our behind the scenes lobbying is starting to pay off, with recognition that we are growing without the investment to back it up.

The government has said it wants the money to be used to boost our economic growth prospects, with a focus on transport, broadband connectivity, skills and culture.

We’ll now be working together with partners to put together our bid, but we won’t be starting from scratch. We already have plans in place which this money could be used for, to accelerate our planned growth in future years. For example, we are already on track to be the third Gigabit city, this money could take this even further. Plans are also progressing at a pace now for a Peterborough University – a funding boost could help us to deliver more and quicker.

It’s heartening to know that our pleas are being heard, but I will continue to lobby those in Westminster so that Peterborough is at the forefront of their minds when allocating additional funding in the future.
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In support of the #CouncilsCan campaign

If you follow the council on social media then you might have spotted that we supported the Local Government Association’s #CouncilsCan campaign to highlight the breadth of services we provide for residents and the urgent need for certainty in our government funding.

Council services touch the lives of everyone – for some it might be their weekly bin collection or trip to the library or sports centre, for others it might be the care package they receive which allows them to remain living at home or the intervention of social workers which has protected a child from harm.

On Monday, councils across the country sent a very clear message to the government that with financial certainty, #CouncilsCan continue to support and build thriving communities.

In the past decade we’ve continued providing the services that matter to local people, despite an 80 per cent cut in our government funding and an unprecedented rise in demand for services. 

We’ve done this by becoming more commercial, managing demand better and being more innovative in the way we provide services.

We make £72million every year through investments, sharing of services, fees and charges and other means – that’s 17.5 per cent of our total budget. For example, every year we generate £2.7million by selling the energy produced by our energy-from-waste plant and we share our planning and trading standards expertise with other councils, bringing in £4million annually.

On the demand front, we support many adults and older people to use technology and adaptations at home. This is great for the resident as it helps them to stay in the home they know and love, but it’s beneficial for the council too, and the taxpayer, as it avoids a more costly care home placement. We’re also working more closely with people at the first stage of housing difficulty to support them to remain living in their own homes.

We’re also running services more innovatively. For example we’re transferring responsibility for community centres across to community organisations with the skills to run them on our behalf, thus ending our financial liability for them. Our libraries are another example – when other councils have had to close libraries, all of ours have remained open and for more hours, despite a reduction in the overall budget, thanks to new technology.

As these examples demonstrate, we are a well-run and ambitious council. But with demand continuing to rise, in 2020/21 we need to find in the region of £25m of savings to deliver a balanced budget and build a bridge to continued financial security.

Next month we will publish a first set of budget proposals for consultation which I will let you know about when I am able to. In the meantime, I assure you that we are leaving no stone unturned in our quest to meet next year’s challenge to be able to continue providing vital services for our residents. (more…)

Posh ground deal now a step closer to completion

Peterborough United is a club that is dear to my heart. I’ve been a fan for 56 years after being introduced to the club by my wife Barbara – it’s where we went on our first date!

So it was a great honour to walk onto the pitch on Saturday ahead of their second home game of the season against Ipswich Town, which they went on to dominate, before conceding an equaliser in the last moments.

Donning my trusty blue and white Posh scarf, I joined the owners of the club to sign a Heads of Terms agreement, which signals the final stages of sale of the ground back to the club, where it belongs.

Signing on the pitch

For those of you unaware of the history, back in 2009 the council bought the stadium and its surrounding land from a property developer to ensure its ownership stayed in the city.

Since then, the city council has unlocked the potential of the surrounding land, leading to the creation of the Allia Future Business Centre and the Vista carbon neutral development which is home to 295 households.

And there is more to come. When the stadium is returned back to the club – hopefully by the end of the year – the council will retain the London Road car park, which will be used to build 82 affordable city centre apartments, through the council’s Meadesham Homes partnership.

As well as generating some really good business and housing developments for this area of the city, the finances stack up as well.

The council has exceeded its expectations in terms of its return on investment from the sale, by generating a hefty £3.9million. Plus, the extra homes and businesses mean we will continue to collect £491,000 a year in business rates and a hefty £2million in council tax.

At a time when every penny counts in the council’s budget, this income is not to be sniffed at and represents a good deal everyone in our city.

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Work continues on 146 new Peterborough homes

Over the past year we have seen a 56 per cent rise in the number of families who present themselves to the council as homeless.

This mirrors national trends publicised by the homeless charity Shelter that one in every 200 households in the UK does not have a place to call their home, a shocking figure that is difficult to get your head around in this day and age.

This is an absolute priority for us and regular readers will know that I have made a personal commitment to do everything in my power to help families back into stable long-term accommodation.

Every Monday morning I meet with key officers to find out how the situation has changed in the city on a weekly basis and what we are doing to address this.

Through our approach of building, buying and working with landlords we are now starting to see the fruits of our efforts, with additional affordable rented homes becoming available across the city.

We now have 43 private properties sublet to us by private landlords and we’ve just finished buying an additional 50 homes across the city, the majority of which now have families living in them.

And more good news is on the way. Last week the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority pledged to spend more than £6 million in the city to build 146 new affordable homes in three sites – next to the Werrington Centre in Staniland Way, in Crowland Road, Eye Green and on Drakes Avenue in Peterborough.

Leader at Medesham building site

Last week, I joined Councillor Steve Allen, the council’s cabinet member for housing to take a closer look at the Crowland Road, Eye Green site, which is being built by Medesham Homes.

Brickwork has now finished, and the site is ready for decorators, electricians and plumbers teams to swoop in to get the 35 homes habitable and ready to welcome their first residents by Christmas.

Seeing as the planning permission was only approved in February this year, that’s pretty good going!

I’d like to thank all those involved in getting these homes up so quickly and playing their part in helping get a further 35 families into affordable, decent homes.

As Deputy Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority I’ve campaigned hard for this additional investment. In total, Peterborough has received £9.85 million and we are halfway towards our target of creating an additional 2,000 affordable homes by 2021.

We remain committed to reaching this figure by any means necessary, working with our housing providers to explore all options, including setting up a Housing Revenue Account – a return to council housing. As always, I will keep you updated on our progress and the positive impact this will have on homeless families across our city.

Peterborough No. 1 for commitment to renewable energy

Following on from last week’s Full Council meeting in which we declared a climate emergency in Peterborough, I was pleased to see the city has been ranked No.1 for its commitment to renewable electricity in a recent report.

The UK Powerhouse quarterly economic report places the city at No.1 in terms of the number of solar panels placed on homes since 2017 per head of population, with a whopping 12 per cent or 9,100 residents investing in this form of renewable energy.

City Market continues to trade

Last week the council was forced to close the Northminster car park due to a possible risk to public safety – something we take extremely seriously.

If the second report confirms initial views on the car park’s structural condition, we will need to make the difficult decision to either repair or demolish it.

But whatever the news on the car park is, I want to reassure you all that the City Market remains open for business and will continue to trade.

City market trading

We are working closely with those who run the market and if it becomes too difficult for them to operate from the current location, we will find it a different home and will make sure that any change of location is really well communicated.

There are some great stalls and traders in our City Market and I would encourage you to make a visit, particularly if you haven’t been for a while, and see what you might have been missing.

Advancements in affordable housing

You may have seen in the media at the weekend that young adults are half as likely to own a home now as they were 20 years ago.

The claim was made by the Local Government Association in a report titled Understanding the Local Housing Market, which warns that many young people face renting into retirement as high rents hinder their ability to save.

It is a problem, which is why we work closely with housing associations and home builders to achieve a good mix of new housing in the city, including affordable homes to buy and rent.

In the past five years 5,328 new homes have been completed in Peterborough, with 1,074 of these affordable. Housing associations have provided an additional 150 homes for affordable ownership and rent, with a further 252 anticipated in the current financial year.

Only last week Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority approved funding of £1.2 million to acquire a 5.1 acre site in the north of the city for around 60 homes, with 30 per cent of these affordable.

The combined authority has also agreed funding of £735,000 to convert 21 new homes from open market sale to affordable rent at Belle Vue in Stanground. It’s the second site to be developed by Medesham Homes, the joint venture partnership between the council and Cross Keys Homes.

In May, the city council agreed to provide almost £6.2million to Medesham Homes, funded from Right to Buy receipts, to deliver 35 new affordable homes at Eye Green.

These projects are all really encouraging and are part of a long term plan to deliver homes across the city for everyone, whether it’s for the private sector, social rent, shared ownership or private rental.

The city council has also invested £10million for the purchase of homes off the open market for use as temporary accommodation for families who are homeless and awaiting permanent re-housing. So far we’ve purchased 51 properties and anticipate being able to buy a further eight.

Our city continues to grow faster than many other parts of the country with significant levels of growth and housing experienced in the past ten years. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of this slowing down, so it’s important that our efforts to create new housing don’t either.

Continuing the A47 dualling campaign

Last week I attended a reception at Parliament hosted by Brandon Lewis MP, along with the Mayor of Cambridgeshire James Palmer and businessman Rob Facer of Barnack Construction, to support the campaign to dual the A47 between Peterborough and Lowestoft.

This road joins the city with the east coast and is of national strategic importance, linking the Midlands with Eastern seaports and acts as an economic artery that runs through Peterborough.

At the meeting I made sure I represented Peterborough’s interests and explained that dualling the sections on our patch would bring huge benefits, reducing journey times and congestion and supporting our vision to see more local economic growth.

Future road proposals

In further good news, the combined authority has agreed to include two Peterborough road schemes on its list of priorities. This list is then shared with the government for a decision on funding.

The two projects are access to the new university site on The Embankment and linking the A47 better with Eastern Industry, taking the pressure off Eye and Parnwell.

Congratulations to Safer Off the Streets!

The city’s Safer Off the Streets partnership is celebrating this week after winning a regional award at the Britain and Ireland Awards, organised by Premier Christian Radio.

The partnership, which scooped the ‘Best Start-Up’ category, helps on average two rough sleepers to leave the streets a month since it began in October last year and has raised a whopping £8,000 for charity.

SOS receiving their award

I know many of you, myself included, have donated money either online or via the contactless card reader in St Peter’s Arcade, the money goes towards the running of the Garden House in the cathedral grounds.

The Garden House is run by the Light Project Peterborough – which also won an award – and does a fantastic job of creating a welcoming environment for rough sleepers thanks to its kind-hearted volunteers.

Another of the scheme’s partners, Care Zone, which operates out of Kingsgate Community Church, also won an award at the ceremony, which is a great achievement.

I’d like to say a massive well done to all those involved in the Safer Off the Streets partnership and to the Light Project for their efforts over the past nine months. Next stop is the national awards, let’s put Peterborough on the map for the right reasons!

Council newsletter

Finally, did you know the council now sends a e-newsletter to residents every week? It includes a link to my blog and other important news about the council. You can sign up at www.peterborough.gov.uk.