Opinion: ‘Peterborough can start to level up’

Peterborough’s MP Paul Bristow writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph...

Saturday, 30th October 2021, 2:15 am
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

What a week! I got married and the chancellor gave Peterborough £20 million in his budget. As wedding presents go, it was a big one.

Being strictly accurate, my wife and I finally got to hold our wedding. The pandemic kept pushing back the formal ceremony. It was a joy to have friends and extended family with us at last.

Our wait was long enough for the government to launch its Levelling Up Fund and identify Peterborough as a priority area. I worked with Peterborough City Council to develop our bid. It was submitted back in June.

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With the knot tied, the scene was set. On Wednesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer held his red Budget Box aloft, before coming to the House of Commons to deliver the news.

Lots of news.

There was plenty for Peterborough in his wider announcements.

From a cash uplift of £1,500 per pupil for our schools to freezing fuel duty for the twelfth year in a row, it was news to celebrate.

The biggest announcement was a £2.2 billion tax cut for the lowest paid.

The work allowance for Universal Credit rises by £500 a year, while the ‘taper rate’ on earnings is being cut by a whopping 8% to ensure that work always pays.

When combined with a 6.6% increase in the National Living Wage, this was definitely a budget for workers. For example, a single mother with two children, working full-time on the living wage, will be better off by around £1,200 a year.

That’s huge.

Because we have left the EU, our government is finally able to reform tax on alcohol, reducing a complicated system of fifteen duties to just six. And before the cheaper Prosecco arrives, the existing duties will remain frozen.

Better still, there was much-needed support for Peterborough’s pubs.

A new, lower rate of duty on draught beer and cider provided the biggest cut to beer duty for 50 years. It’s a permanent cut in the cost of a pint by three pence.

I know how welcome that will be to Peterborough venues still recovering from the shocks of the pandemic.

Our other city centre businesses weren’t forgotten either. Around 90% of retail, hospitality and leisure venues will see their business rates halved next year.

However, there was one thing I was desperate to know. Had we got the Levelling Up money?

The Peterborough bid was ambitious.

I have written before about the university project, which has already benefitted from generous government support. In fact, there was another £827,000 announced this month.

But our Phase 2 submission was on another level, underpinning plans to expand the new university and deliver both ‘The Living Lab’ science block and the entire University Quarter Cultural Hub.

Extra teaching space, innovation and research facilities, supporting 1,700 local students studying in STEM fields. Each open to the public and attracting up to 50,000 visitors a year. Each relying on Rishi.

On page 78 of his Red Book, I finally saw what I wanted. There was Peterborough, proudly listed in the first tranche of Levelling Up allocations.

This is fantastic news for our city. One reason we got the cash was our ability to complete construction by 2024.

That’s less build time than it took me to get married. It’s also the best present of the lot.