Westcombe Engineering celebrated by city

Walking through the city centre yesterday, I met a resident I hadn’t seen for a long time who had spotted a video on our Facebook page about Westcombe Engineering.

Although she had lived in our city for most of her life, she wasn’t aware of just how much this social enterprise delivers back to our city, particularly in terms of its employment of disabled workers.

So, let me tell you a little about it – founded in 1970, Westcombe Engineering was set up to provide permanent employment and work experience for disabled people. All profits are reinvested back into the business and the local economy, with the aim of increasing the life chances of those living in Peterborough.

When it was set up, many expected it to only last a few years or so. However, nearly 50 years later the business has just announced an impressive 60 per cent growth in the last three years, led by its ability to diversify beyond its traditional diesel engine components market into new areas.

On top of this, it also won a regional business award for manufacturing in the last 12 months and in 2017, was included in the Parliamentary Review Publication, cited as a best practice example in the manufacturing industry.

Westcombe Engineering was always light years ahead of its time, but I don’t think even its founder would have predicted the global public demand for businesses to care more about their workforce, their community and increasingly their environment.

westcombe engineers

The video that went out on Facebook this week – which can be found on our Peterborough City Council channel – celebrated the business and its workers. It tells the story of among others, Darren who caught chicken pox as a child and had to have a section of his brain removed. Thanks to Westcombe, Darren is able to earn his own money and has his independence, which he is proud to say has given his life purpose.

If you haven’t seen the video it’s well worth a watch and if you have, please share it with someone else in our city. Westcombe is a credit to our community and has changed the lives of so many skilled and talented disabled people and their families. (more…)

Celebrating one year of Safer Off the Streets

With the temperatures starting to fall and the colder winter nights not that far ahead, I was pleased to learn that we have helped 44 people to leave the streets and into accommodation in the past year.

That’s thanks in no small part to the Safer off the Streets partnership, which was launched a year ago today, on World Homeless Day.

On this day I joined colleagues from 19 other organisations across the city in Cathedral Square, including The Light Project Peterborough, Peterborough Soup Kitchen and Hope into Action to pledge to work together to help and support rough sleepers off the streets.

It’s a shocking fact that the average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is just 47 years. Take a moment to think about that – it’s the same age as Gwyneth Paltrow, Liam Galllagher and Cameron Diaz. Who do you know who is 47 or thereabouts?

We don’t want people dying at such a young age in our city, which is why it’s the central aim of the Safer Off the Streets to get individuals off the streets and into accommodation and/or employment.

Thanks to donations from city residents, via the contactless card reader in St Peter’s Arcade, cash collection boxes at the Town Hall and Visitor’s Centre and the website www.saferoffthestreets.co.uk, the partnership has raised over £12,000 in just a year.

Those who donate can feel confident this is being used to help and support rough sleepers in leaving the streets. Indeed, the vast majority of this money has gone to The Garden House, which is run by the Light Project Peterborough – a place for rough sleepers to access everything from a friendly welcome and a cup of coffee to assistance in finding a home and a job, GP services and art therapy.

The Garden House acts as a hub for all partners in the Safer Off the Streets partnership, including our own council officers who assist people off the streets and into accommodation.

Now, as the weather is getting colder again, the Safer Off the Streets partnership is giving people even more ways to help – including launching an Amazon Wish List of items that can be bought to help the charities involved.

If you haven’t heard about Safer Off the Streets yet, please take a moment to find out more via its website www.saferoffthestreets.co.uk or search for the partnership on Facebook. (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.


New schools and new starts

This September hundreds of children will start school for the first time and many more will make the jump from primary to secondary.

As one of the fastest growing cities in the country, not least because we have one of the highest birth rates, we’ve once again faced huge pressure to meet a rising demand for school places.

In fact, as of the national offer days in April and May, we had offered 5,580 children a school place for September – that’s 132 more than last year.

Despite the increase, we were still able to provide the vast majority of children their first place school – 90.4 per cent for primary applications and 85.6 per cent for secondary – with 97 per cent offered one of their three preferred schools.

We’re able to achieve this success because of careful planning by our school admissions team and of course the investment we have made in schools in recent years – and continue to make – to increase the number of places.

We’ve extended and rebuilt schools across the city and new schools have opened in Cardea and Hampton in recent years so we can continue meeting the needs of our growing population.

Only last week the government announced it had approved applications for two new schools in PeterboroughManor Drive Academy at Paston Reserve which we’re progressing with the 4Cs Academy Trust, and a new Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided primary school at Hampton Waters. Both schools are targeted for opening in 2022, subject to further discussion with the Department for Education. It was really good news and a credit to those who worked on the applications when you consider that only 18 per cent of bids for funding were successful and we had two!

In 2017 the government also agreed to fund a new primary school at Paston Reserve. This along with the secondary school will cost in the region of £32million – money we would have to find if our bid had proved unsuccessful.

With demand for school places only going one way, we continue to plan to meet future demand.

Work starts on site at a new primary school at Hampton Lakes early next month – again funded by the government. Other projects are due to conclude over the summer, including extensions of Jack Hunt School to include a new classroom block and dining facility, Oakdale Primary in Stanground and Woodston Primary.

Regardless of the significant pressures on our budget, meeting the demand for school places is one pressure that we will always have to meet. And that’s not just because we have a legal duty to do so, but because the future success of our city is founded on the youngsters of today being offered a high standard of education in buildings that allow them to reach their full potential. (more…)

Still a fan half a century later

Before I write about anything else in my first blog of 2018, I would like to say a huge well done to Peterborough United for a fantastic game at the weekend.

I took the journey to the Villa Park ground with my grandsons on Saturday fully expecting an entertaining game, and by the time the first half ended, it was clear it would be just that.

All the players really stepped up and delivered a superb team performance, with Jack Marriott and Ryan Tafazolli delivering a perfect header from the corner to secure a 3-1 win.

My grandson Lewis went as far as to say it was the best football match he’d ever seen. Let’s hope he sees an even better one against Fleetwood or Leicester at the end of the month.

New developments

Sticking with the POSH theme, it’s a little known fact that my wife Barbara and I went on our first date together at the London Road ground just over 54 years ago. It was a memorable date for many reasons and we’ve been POSH fans ever since.

We got married in 1964 and just a few years into married life, I remember hearing exciting plans for a new development at North Westgate, a promising area near to the train station.


Over the years many developers have come forward with big ideas on how to regenerate this site, which lies in an important location but is very much under-used, none of which have come to fruition.


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?


Keep fit and help good causes

This Sunday the city will be packed with people hoping to achieve a personal best in this year’s Perkins Great Eastern Run.

This annual event is a highlight in the city’s calendar and one which attracts more and more people each year since its return in 2006.

Running has grown in popularity over recent years, partly thanks to the sporting achievements of Mo Farah and the rest of Team GB in the London and Rio Olympic Games.

However, I think it’s also down to the freedom it offers and its ability to fit easily into our modern lives.

Running (and walking, my personal favourite) are the few forms of exercise that can be done alone and in almost any environment. You don’t need any expensive equipment, you just put on your shoes and go.

The health benefits of regular exercise and getting out into the fresh air are undeniable and we all know we should be doing a lot more of it.

So with that in mind, I’ve got two messages for you ahead of this Sunday’s race event.

Firstly, I’d like to wish everyone participating in the half marathon and the Anna’s Hope 5km Fun Run an enjoyable and successful day.

And secondly, I’d like to invite everyone reading this column to make time this weekend for a 30 minutes walk or run. If you want to tie it in with watching the Perkins Great Eastern Run in action, you can find the route on the PGER website. However, one of the best locations to watch the runners pass is Cathedral Square.


Law needs changing following city experience

As a local authority, Peterborough City Council is a member of the national Local Government Association and I recently met with its chairman, Lord Porter.

I wrote to Lord Porter in December on the matter of homelessness and how the situation we have experienced in Peterborough could be examined at a national level.

The central focus of this letter was around St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell and I was keen to meet Lord Porter to discuss how we can work together to try and urgently stop a situation like this from happening again.

Lord Porter understood the situation that we face in Peterborough and said he had taken an interest in the story.

He recognised that it was unfair that landlords can serve notice on such a large number of people in one street. He would welcome a change that would place a cap which might, for example, restrict the number of properties in a particular area or street that a landlord could do this.


Ensuring the most vulnerable are supported across the city

Since we published our second phase budget proposals at the end of last month quite a few people have asked me about the proposed rise in council tax and how this relates to adult social care funding.

Nationally, adult social care is facing unprecedented pressure resulting from the needs of an ageing population, reducing budgets and increasing costs of care; the situation in Peterborough is no different.

To put it in figures, our city council has to deal with financial pressures on adult social care of over £2.3million next year due to increased factors including cost, demand and complexity of need.

We also have to rapidly prepare for the future as analysis of the Peterborough population indicates an increase of 17 per cent by 2021, of which people aged 85 and over are expected to increase by 40 per cent and those aged 55 and over by 26 per cent.


Lots to look forward to in 2017

As this is my first column of the year I’d like to wish residents all the best for a happy and prosperous 2017.  

There is always a lot going on in Peterborough and I believe that the next 12 months will be no different, with many exciting developments and subjects to focus on.

I think we can all agree that this city has waited long enough for the regeneration of North Westgate and I am committed to seeing this progress in 2017. We announced a few months ago that the council will invest £15million over the next three years to buy land and property so we can take a lead role in its comprehensive redevelopment.

While we are planning for the North Westgate scheme, on the other side of the city centre the planning has finished and work has begun on Fletton Quays. This £120million regeneration project will really begin to take shape over the next 12 months as works to transform the site start to build up steam.