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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Countywide Co-ordination Hub continues to deliver

It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly a year since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the UK.

The past 12 months have been highly challenging, with the council’s resources severely tested.

I’m extremely proud that we’ve kept frontline services running whilst branching out to help vulnerable residents. It’s been a tough balancing act, but we have a duty to help those in need and we will continue to fulfil it.

The success of our Countywide Co-ordination Hub shows how committed we are to doing this. The hub was launched in April 2020 and has supported many vulnerable people across Peterborough.

Hub logo

This includes providing food parcels, checking in with clinically extremely vulnerable people while they are shielding and, more recently, arranging transport to vaccinations.

Hub staff have made 1,985 calls and emails to 1,400 individuals, resulting in over 3,000 enquires being dealt with.

Just over half of these enquiries were from residents under 65, showing that all ages, not just the elderly, have been impacted by the pandemic.

More than 850 enquiries were from people needing access to food or help with their shopping and getting prescriptions to people self-isolating accounts for 10% of enquiries.

The hub team, which includes re-deployed council staff, have worked with organisations and community groups to ensure residents have access to mental health support, public health information, debt and financial advice, befriending and much more.

Our drive to help those in need has also assisted local businesses. We’ve worked with the government to administer grant funding to firms affected by the pandemic.

During 2020 we delivered over £35.5million in business grants. This benefited around 2,800 local businesses and I’d urge firms to get in touch to see if they are eligible for support.

In the meantime, rest assured that we will continue to keep the city moving forward.

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More vaccinations – but please keep following the rules

I am delighted to report that I have joined the growing number of people to get a Covid-19 vaccination.

My appointment took place at the Thistlemoor Medical Centre and the single injection to my upper arm was quick and painless. I’m feeling fine and I’d like to thank the wonderful staff there for making it so straightforward.

john holdich vaccine

The vaccine works by teaching an immune system to create antibodies which protect from Coronavirus. The first dose gives good protection and the second dose, which I will get within 12 weeks, gives longer lasting protection.

The biggest immunisation campaign in history is gathering pace and a mass vaccination centre has opened Peterborough.

Over six million people in the UK have had a first dose and a record-breaking 491,970 people were vaccinated in a single day over the weekend. By the time you read this those numbers will have significantly increased, so it’s an amazing effort and we are leading Europe.

I would urge everyone to accept their appointment invite, get the jabs done and help control the spread of the virus which remains prevalent in our city.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has warned that vaccinated people may still spread the virus, so everyone must continue to follow the national guidelines for case numbers to reduce, whether you’ve had the vaccine or not.

To recap, don’t invite people into your home who you don’t live with all the time, don’t go out unless it is essential – and when you do take particular care because the new variant of the virus is so much easier to catch.

You also need to continue to wear face coverings in shops, keep socially distanced and wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.

Everyone has done amazingly well and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. As always, rest assured that we will continue to work hard to keep the city moving forward.

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Please continue to follow guidance as vaccine is rolled out

Now it may surprise you to learn that despite my boyish good looks, I am into my seventh decade on this planet!

People in my age group are currently receiving Covid-19 vaccinations and my appointment for a jab is pencilled in for next week. I’m looking forward to it and with the vaccine rollout progressing at pace, it feels like there truly is light at the end of a long tunnel.

The vaccine rollout is the biggest immunisation campaign in history and it’s important for everyone to be aware of how it all works.

In Peterborough the programme is well under way, with the NHS actively working to open additional vaccination sites over the coming weeks.

People most at risk, including over-80s and care home residents and workers, were vaccinated first. Those aged over 75 were next, followed by those aged over 70 and adults of all ages who are the most vulnerable – those who have been shielding, including some cancer patients and those with lung and heart conditions.

If you are registered with a local GP, you will be contacted when it is your turn to book an appointment. Please do not call the hospitals or GP practices, all you need to do is wait to be invited. If you are not registered with a local GP, please do so asap to ensure you get invited to book an appointment.

The vaccines are deemed to be highly effective, so I would urge everyone to please accept their invite once it arrives, get the jab and help to control the spread of the virus.

vaccine rollout

We are aware of national vaccine scams, with fraudsters contacting vulnerable people offering vaccines for money. Please note that the vaccine is free and the NHS will never ask for payment or your bank details.

Like all medicines, no vaccine is completely effective, so this is why it’s vitally important to keep following social distancing and other guidance, even if you’ve been vaccinated.

You can find out more about the COVID-19 vaccination programme being rolled out across Peterborough, including local sites, on the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG website.

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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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Happy New Year for 2021

This is my first column of 2021, so I would like to start off by wishing everyone a happy New Year.

The past twelve months have been a year like no other, resulting in big changes to our daily lives and having to sacrifice some of the things we all love doing.

There is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine rollout continuing but with the new lockdown under way, I must once again implore everyone to follow the guidelines and take extra care.

So to recap the lockdown rules, please don’t invite people into your home who you don’t live with all the time, don’t go out unless it is essential – and when you do take particular care because of this new variant of the virus is so much easier to catch.

Avoid crowded areas, don’t gather together in groups, don’t ignore signs or the advice of our marshals who are out on the streets to help and support you.

You also need to continue to wear face coverings in shops, keep socially distanced and wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.

stay home poster

We appreciate that the current situation is very difficult for some people, and there is support for those who may be lonely or isolated, or who suddenly need very practical support– and I would encourage them to phone the countywide co-ordination hub on 0345 045 5219.

 

For anyone whose mental health is being more severely impacted, there is the Lifeline support number 0808 808 2121 which operates daily from 11am to 11pm and for people with a mental health crisis you can phone the NHS 111 number and ask for Option 2.

Council projects able to progress despite pandemic

Not many of us will look back on 2020 fondly, however there were silver linings like the heart-warming way our communities pulled together to help one another.

There were many unprecedented challenges for the council but at the same time we’ve made great progress on a number of significant projects.

Our ambitious regeneration plans moved forward at pace over the past year and will play a key role in ensuring Peterborough remains a great place to live, work and play for many years to come.

Fletton Quays is one of our proudest achievements, featuring our council’s offices and hundreds of state-of-the-art apartments. The site’s development is coming along nicely with work on the new Hilton hotel progressing, along with the construction of a government hub, set to be completed in 2022.

Construction of our new university is also under way and the benefits it will bring to our city and the region will be enormous and last for generations.

Our ambition is to launch a job creating, employment-focussed university that will deliver courses targeted specifically towards industries across Peterborough where demand currently outstrips availability of skilled workers.

The university is on track to open in September 2022, catering initially for 2,000 students, with numbers projected to rise to 5,000 by 2025 and 12,500 by 2030.

Meanwhile, our exciting work to redevelop Northminster is moving forward and we hope to submit a planning application later this year, so watch this space.

Towns Fund to be dedicated to five key projects

Another significant achievement of the past year was our successful bid to the government’s Towns Fund, granting us £22.9 million. The funds are earmarked for the following five key projects which we are moving forwards:

  • Riverside Development and Connections – Creating a masterplan for the Embankment, the new University campus and Middleholme.
  • New and improved visitor and cultural attractions – These include a new library and cultural facilities for the city, as well as improved visitor attractions.
  • Developing the Station Quarter – Creating a welcoming route from the train station into the city centre and opening up space for new homes and offices.
  • Enterprise and Skills infrastructure – Building a new enterprise training and business incubation hub to support new city businesses and start-ups, and a training centre for green technology skills.
  • Future green city – Creating safer, easily accessible routes for pedestrians and cyclists to the train station and city centre from key sites around the city.

These projects have been specifically designed to increase the wellbeing of residents, boost visitor numbers and adhere to the city’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Peterborough’s time really is now and we are fully committed to creating a city of growth, prosperity and opportunity.

A huge thanks to our key workers

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank all of our key workers, council staff and dedicated band of volunteers for their sterling efforts over the past year.

So many of our residents are key workers – doctors, nurses, police officers, social workers, supermarket workers and many, many other professions – they all deserve special praise and their continued efforts in these difficult times are truly invaluable.

As always you can rest assured we will continue to work to keep you safe and keep the city moving forwards.

Please stay safe over Christmas and New Year

When I heard the news on Saturday that Peterborough had been placed into Tier 4 restrictions by the government I was deeply saddened.

I always aim to be a glass half full person, looking for the positives in any situation and it’s been tough to do this of late.

However, with the vaccine rollout continuing there is hope for the future and by following the national guidance there is a chance life could return to normal by next spring.

But in the meantime, I can’t emphasise enough how vitally important it is for everyone to follow the rules and stay safe over the Christmas and New Year period.

The new restrictions have been brought in following rapidly increasing levels of infection in Peterborough, which could be a result of the new variant of the disease seen across London and the south east of England.

The new variant is up to 70 per cent easier to catch, however, there is currently no evidence that the virus leads to worse outcomes than other variants or that the vaccine won’t be successful in immunising people against it.

For anyone still unsure about the new restrictions, Tier 4 rules are similar to the first lockdown restrictions, meaning that non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms/leisure and entertainment venues have to close and people should only travel for essential reasons such as work, education or essential shopping.

On top of this, you must reduce your contact with anyone outside your household /support bubble to the absolute minimum. Now I fully understand that sacrificing a traditional Christmas with family and friends will be devastating for many, but I must urge you to do so to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and for the greater good.

It’s also important to be even more rigorous about observing the ‘hands, face, space’ rules that we are all familiar with.

The Tier 4 restrictions are explained fully on the government’s website here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-4-stay-at-home

We appreciate that this will be very difficult for some people, and there is support for those who may be lonely or isolated, or who suddenly need very practical support– and I would encourage them to phone the countywide co-ordination hub on 0345 045 5219.

For anyone whose mental health is being more severely impacted, there is the Lifeline support number 0808 808 2121 which operates daily from 11am to 11pm and for people with a mental health crisis you can phone the NHS 111 number and ask for Option 2.

One thing that has lightened all the darkness this year has been the heart-warming way our communities have pulled together to support one another.

There have been so many great examples of people going the extra distance to help those in need that it would be impossible to mention them all here.

Numerous groups, individuals, businesses and organisations across the city have worked tirelessly to make a real difference.

Sometimes it’s the little things that count, like having someone to talk to and making sure you can get everyday essential items. In ‘normal times’ we took these things for granted but the virus has reminded us how important they are.

I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has leant a helping hand and please, if you can, continue this sterling work to help get us through the weeks ahead.

The pandemic has also shone a light on our council’s services, emphasising the key role they play in supporting residents with their lives.

Again, there are simply too many to highlight here, but special mention to our refuse and recycling crews – our “heroes in high vis jackets” as I like to call them, our school staff, teachers and pupils and our highways and maintenance teams.

So many of our residents are key workers – doctors, nurses, police officers, social workers, supermarket workers and many, many other professions – and they all deserve special praise for their efforts this year. If you are having to work this festive period whilst many of us are at home, then thank you.

I wish you all a peaceful and happy Christmas. Keep safe and remember online and outside is the safest way to spend time with people.

As always you can rest assured we will continue to work to keep you safe and keep the city moving forwards.

It has of course been a desperately tough year for local businesses and my praise goes out to everyone involved.

As a council we’re fully committed to doing everything we can to support local firms and we’re reminding them that they can apply for grants of up to £3,000 per month to help compensate for having to close during November’s national lockdown and now whilst the city is in tier 4.

To find out if your business is eligible and for more information about the grants visit Peterborough City Council’s website – https://www.peterborough.gov.uk/healthcare/public-health/coronavirus/national-lockdown-grant-scheme.

Finally, I wish you all a peaceful and happy Christmas. If you are having to work whilst many of us are at home, then thank you.

I also wish you a healthy and happy start to 2021 and remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel next year. (more…)

Please celebrate Christmas differently this year

The past 12 months have been the most challenging that many of us will have encountered and so it is understandable that people are looking forward to some much-needed respite during the festive period.

Christmas is usually the time of year when we all look forward to spending time with family and friends, but with rates of the virus rising in our city and remaining high, we all need to think carefully about with who we choose to spend Christmas with this year.

You’ll be aware that the government has confirmed that people from three different households can spend time together between December 23 and 27 – that’s the same three households across the five days, not three different ones each day.

But I urge you to see this not as a requirement, but a permission if you can make it as safe as possible for everyone involved.

Whilst I’m sure that everyone can’t wait to see their loved ones, please remember that the safest way to spend time with family and friends is either online, on the phone or outside. This advice is particularly important if you or your relatives are elderly or vulnerable.

So instead, you could organise a walk or get together at the local park, or have a family get together online. Remember, if you do meet outdoors, you must be socially distanced at all times.

meet outside

If you do meet indoors, try to give each other space and stay two metres apart, wash your hands regularly and open windows for 10-15 minutes every hour or so, to allow good ventilation.  You’re more likely to catch Covid in poorly ventilated places.

Clean all your surfaces, handles and objects that people might touch and have hand sanitiser available too. Try and reduce the number of people in one room, meet in the largest space possible and rearrange furniture to make more space.

If you’re going out Christmas shopping, remember your face mask and hand sanitiser. Keep your distance from others who are shopping, avoid peak times of the day when stores get busy and try not to queue close together for shops.

I know we continue to ask a lot of our residents, who have already made great sacrifices. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but for now, let’s keep on working together to stop Covid in its tracks.

And please don’t forget that help is at hand if you’re struggling right now. The council’s coordination hub is continuing to support families in need of help and everyday essentials. You can contact the hub by visiting the council’s coronavirus webpage or by calling 01733 747474. (more…)

Construction of ARU Peterborough begins

Our exciting regeneration plans for Peterborough are the most ambitious this city has seen for decades and a real source of personal pride.

A key part of these plans is ARU Peterborough, the city’s new £30 million university and this week marked the very start of its construction.

On Tuesday I gathered with James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and Professor Roderick Watkins, Vice Chancellor of ARU, for a special sod cutting ceremony at the site.

Sod cutting

Despite the freezing conditions this event really warmed my heart because it felt like such a significant moment in the project, which has been several years in the making.

I can’t wait to see ARU constructed and the benefits it will bring to our city and the region will be enormous and last for generations to come.

Our ambition is to launch a job creating, employment-focussed university that will deliver courses targeted specifically towards industries across Peterborough where demand currently outstrips availability of skilled workers.

The university is on track to open in September 2022, catering initially for 2,000 students, with numbers projected to rise to 5,000 by 2025 and 12,500 by 2030.

In the first five years after opening, it will create an initial 170 university jobs and 300 supply chain jobs, in addition to 50 temporary construction jobs while it is being built.

The ARU is part of our commitment to ensuring Peterborough is a great place to live, work and relax for years to come.

With the Fletton Quays development progressing at pace, the city centre recently transformed and the regeneration of the Station Quarter, North Westgate and Northminster all in the pipeline, the city’s time really is now. (more…)

New Covid marshals join dedicated team

With the national lockdown ending this week and Peterborough moving into Tier Two of the new system, our efforts to control the spread of Coronavirus are continuing in earnest.

Rates of the virus across Peterborough remain high – they’re not reducing at the same rate as many other areas – so we are doing everything we can to get our residents and businesses to pull together to stop Covid in its tracks.

One of the most visible ways we are making a difference is through our dedicated team of Covid marshals.

Ten marshals have been out on patrol in hotspot areas over the past month, speaking to residents, shoppers and businesses, offering advice and guidance about the national safety rules and explaining how people can keep themselves and others safe.

covid marshal

Twenty new marshals joined the team on Monday to increase the amount of time spent engaging with people in those areas where there is a higher prevalence of Covid.

The marshals have been a really positive addition for us, offering a reassuring presence in our communities and providing us with valuable feedback. Police patrols are taking place daily as well, with enforcement action taken when needed.

We are also working with a large number of community organisations such as Age UK and Youth Inspired, faith groups and others to make sure as many people as possible are getting advice. We are translating key messages into other languages and working with community leaders to spread the word widely.

Other measures include advertising public health advice on information boards, lamp posts and roundabouts, using an LED van to share messages, radio advertising, supporting businesses to ensure they are operating safely and allowing staff to work from home. And don’t be surprised if you get a message pop up on your mobile phone when you’re out and about, as we’re trialling text message advertising too.

So as you can see, we have lots going on, but we need your help to control the spread of the virus.

Please remember to only meet indoors with people you live with or who are in your support bubble. You can now meet with up to six people who you do not live with outdoors whilst keeping your distance.

As ever, you can rest assured that we will continue to work hard to keep you safe and to keep the city moving forward. (more…)