Local Elections: Resolving the mess we inherited

After being asked by council colleagues to lead the council on 1 st of November 2023, my first focus was on dealing with the legacy of challenges left by the previous administration, writes cllr Mohammed Farooq (Peterborough First).
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My tasks were to set my priorities for the next four years and a create a business plan; both of which were aimed at making the council a more efficient and best serving organisation and while delivering best value for money for our taxpayers.

I can honestly say that 80% of my time is spent on trying to resolve the mess we have inherited, namely the closure of the regional pool, inadequate children’s services, the Hilton Hotel, Werrington fields, the asset disposal list and a large number of outside companies, which need resolving.

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Some of the outside companies have seen tens of millions of pounds gone into them with very little or no value to you, the taxpayer.

Council leader Mohammed Farooq, Peterborough FirstCouncil leader Mohammed Farooq, Peterborough First
Council leader Mohammed Farooq, Peterborough First

Following the tough decision of closing the pool, we are very focused on the opportunity to deliver a new pool for Peterborough that is future-proofed for generations to come. Whilst no plan was on the table when we came in, we are working hard to see a vision for an exciting future for swimming provision in Peterborough. I have asked officers to prepare a business case for a new 50m swimming pool. It’s important we try and get a 50m pool as this is an Olympic standard and it has more chance of becoming sustainable.

You are all aware that £15m was loaned to a developer to build the Fletton Quays hotel and the developer has subsequently been put into administration. This is not an ideal situation, however right now all we can do is make the best choice in the circumstances we have been dealt. I have asked officers to investigate and report back with various options of how we can proceed as you may well have seen in the cabinet meeting, whilst at all times trying to minimise the losses to the taxpayer.

In my opinion, the council has been involved in too many companies as confirmed by our independent improvement panel, which have been a net loss to the council. I am actively trying to negotiate a way out for the council of those companies which do not add value to the taxpayers money.

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Furthermore, I have setup a cross-party shareholder cabinet to ensure that decision making and the future direction of council companies is a responsibility shared across the political spectrum. This is a sensible approach, and it shows how well collaborative politics can work.

A lot is being said about Werrington Fields and safe provision of recreation space for school children. We must prioritise the safeguarding of pupils, and it is unthinkable that in 2024 we still have a secondary school that has no safeguarding provision and pupils who cannot access outside space safely. This is a legacy of Conservative indecision since 2019 and it’s unthinkable they are making more noise now than any time when they were in charge. We hope the residents of Werrington aren’t misled by the false rhetoric and instead focus on the safeguarding requirements of children, which will be balanced with community use too.

You may wonder how the other 20% of my time is spent, well I am glad to say that in a short space of time we have already achieved better outcomes for residents with our collaborative approach. We have attracted £25 million of transport infrastructure investment through the Combined Authority. We have seen the outline business case approved for the station quarter. Planning for the fourth phase of the University is well underway. We are looking at our city centre offering, and we want to thank everyone who has taken part in the consultation.

We look forward to developing our plans for Cathedral Square and the Guild Hall based on your feedback, and this is the difference: we are listening.

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In November, at the start of my leadership, an Ofsted inspection of our childcare services rated it inadequate. My administration has worked extremely hard to put this right. This week at our Cabinet meeting, we presented a local offer for care leavers where they will be supported beyond the age of 18 in all aspects of life. As a parent, I am very passionate about the future of our children and I want care leavers to have the same opportunities as my children would have.

It was a busy week for meetings last week, you may have seen that the majority of the Conservative members walked out towards the end of our last Council meeting before the elections. This is a great shame as it deprived those Councillors who are not re-standing in May the chance to see out their last meeting, and lost them the chance to discuss our improvement journey. I hope that anyone watching the council meetings online will have seen the better tone and measured approach that my Peterborough First colleagues brought to the Council meetings.