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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Back to school, the one they wanted

It hardly seems possible, but in just a few days’ time thousands of children across the city will be returning to school.

Good luck to the little ones starting in reception and all those moving to a new school – for these children it’s a particularly exciting and nerve-wracking time.

Once again this year we have been able to provide a school place for every child that needs one – that’s despite further increases in pupil numbers.

I read a story in the national media at the weekend about the pressure councils are under to provide enough school places, a pressure that we feel every year.

It included some stats on the number of pupils not gaining a place at their first choice school. In some parts of London 40 per cent of families did not achieve their first place secondary school last year and in other parts of the country it’s about 20 per cent.

This year in Peterborough 91 per cent of children were offered their first preference primary school and 85.6 per cent were offered their first choice secondary school. When you consider that Peterborough is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, not least because we have one of the highest birth rates, it’s a huge achievement. Between 2010 and 2018 our pupil numbers increased by 26 per cent since, that’s 7,892 extra children.

We’re able to offer the vast majority of families their school of choice because of careful planning by our school admissions team and the willingness of schools to expand. In doing so they can take additional pupils and help us achieve our shared vision of being able to offer every child a place at their catchment school.

We’ve just completed extensions of Jack Hunt School to include a new classroom block and dining facility, Oakdale Primary in Stanground and Woodston Primary. In recent years we’ve opened new schools in Cardea and Hampton and over the summer we’ve started on site at a new primary school at Hampton Lakes.

There are more new schools on the way too. Funding has been approved by the government for Manor 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.

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 otherwise have needed to find to provide these schools.

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

Undoubtedly there are harder times to come, but we will continue to work closely with our schools and the government to achieve the growth in our school place numbers that we predict we will need.

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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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

Creating a Smart infrastructure

A modern city relies on good infrastructure to keep it moving, and I don’t just mean roads, buildings and utilities like gas and electricity.

The rollout of Gigafast Broadband across Peterborough by CityFibre is now continuing at pace and is set to unlock huge economic growth in our city over the next 15 years.

Already over 140 kilometres of fibre optic cables have been installed and some of you reading will have already seen this happening on your own street.

Once complete, Vodafone is set to bring Gigafast Broadband (1000mbps) to most city residents by early 2019, making Peterborough the third Smart Gigabit city in the UK.

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Plenty to be excited about

I was delighted to hear that this year’s A-Level results are above the national average for pupils achieving passes for the fourth year in a row.

With results received from all of the city’s 11 secondary schools who had students sitting A-Levels this year, the overall pass rate has remained above the national average at 98.2 per cent, with the national average standing at 97.6 per cent.

The proportion of students achieving higher grades has remained high, with 44.7 per cent of pupils in city schools achieving A* to B grades, sustaining last year’s improvement compared to 42.4 % in 2016.

So I would like to say a big well done to all pupils who collected their results and the their teachers. It’s an exciting time as A-levels open many doors, whether you are remaining in education, taking a training course or entering the world of work.

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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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