Peterborough City Council leader John Holdich: We will help refugees every year
With this week's annual council meeting behind me and my cabinet selected, it's time to set to work on achieving our priorities for the year ahead.
Last year was particularly successful – more of our schools are now judged good or better by Ofsted, development is underway across the city including Fletton Quays and we launched our own energy tariff which has seen more than 3,200 residents saving a combined total of more than £800,000.
The Cabinet roles I’ve chosen will ensure that we can build on that success and make Peterborough an even better place to live, work and visit.
I haven’t got space here to tell you about all our priorities, but I’ve hand-picked the ones that I thought might interest you the most.
Giving our youngest residents the best start in life educationally and keeping them safe from harm remains top of our agenda.
We’re constantly banging the drum to recruit more foster carers and adoptive parents, but inevitably we have to use external agencies to meet the demand, costing us £4 million a year.
We want to find homes quickly for children who need them, as well as reduce our spending on external agencies, so will be exploring partnership arrangements with a specialist provider to establish a new fostering and adoption service.
Despite the funding pressures that we face, it’s vitally important that we play our part in caring for people in real need. That’s why we have agreed with the government that we will take five families (two children, two adults) needing refuge from Syria, per year, for the next five years.
I faced a barrage of criticism in the council chamber last year on this subject as I said we needed more time to gather information, particularly on the financials. I stand by that decision as the financial package now being offered by the government has changed immeasurably and I now feel that we have struck the right balance for the council and our residents.
Some councillors have criticised me for not taking more families. We have agreed with councils in the region to collectively accommodate 30 families each year and at this stage we are not being asked to take any more than five families so it would be foolish to suggest that we could.
Also top of my agenda this year is tackling people who ruin the look of our city. The new prevention and enforcement service will continue to investigate flytipping so that we can prosecute, but in addition we will launch a grot spot hotline so residents can report issues in their communities. There is little point in us investing in additional street cleansing and spring cleans if people then dump their waste.
I’ve given you just a flavour of what we will be looking to do in the coming year, I could go on! We’ll also be expanding the Empower free solar PV scheme which saw more than 200 installations in phase one, developing the city’s events calendar to boost our visitor numbers further and pressing ahead with plans to build homes as part of a new joint venture company with a housing partner. The latter will not only make us money but will provide much needed new homes for those in greatest need including the disabled and ex-armed forces personnel.
As you can see, we have a lot to keep us busy. Once again there are considerable challenges ahead financially with further grant reductions announced for the next three years, but we have an excellent track record for balancing our budget without making cuts to services. I look forward to making sure that this city continues to prosper for all.
I’d like to say a big well done to Ken Stimpson Community School in Werrington which has been rated good across the board by Ofsted. Headteacher Richard Lord, his staff and pupils have risen to the challenge of making it a good school and they deserve huge praise.