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Leader Mohammed Farooq's column March 21

21 March 2024

I have been council leader for almost six months now and am continuing to enjoy the many challenges of the role. 

We have made some fantastic achievements in a short space of time and the authority is in a far better position than it was just a few years ago.

That’s not just my opinion, as the latest report from the council’s Independent Improvement and Assurance Panel has also praised the work of our dedicated members and staff.

The panel concluded that ‘members and officers alike continue to work extremely hard on the issues facing the city council and are working collectively and collegiately.’

They described the unanimous approval of the 2024/25 budget last month as a major achievement and commented that our new administration has found ways to work well with and win support from the opposition groups in relation to key decisions – something I am really proud of and will endeavour to continue.

However, we are never complacent and note the panel’s caution in relation to managing the risks that are present for every council such as high demand and rising costs – but what sets us apart is that we have a plan in place to manage this.

We still have some way to go to achieve a stable financial future and the next six months will be critical as we strive to deliver the aims of our Portfolio Boards which have been set up to lead the transformation of our services. Through these boards we can achieve financial sustainability and the aims we have committed to as part of our Corporate Strategy, creating a city of opportunity for all.

You can read the panel’s full report at

I was honoured to speak at a special Parliamentary reception on Monday about exciting early-stage plans for a research and development institute for sustainable energy at our new university, ARU Peterborough.

The proposed facility and associated development programme focuses on new technologies for the safe transmission, distribution and use of hydrogen into both industrial and domestic use. The new institute would also work on technology for the safe storage of hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2), as well sustainable fuels for aviation.

The proposals describe a potential ten-year programme that could be worth up to £150 million, the creation of hundreds of new jobs, and generating tens of millions of economic growth.

For me, this event marked a pivotal moment in our city’s journey towards a more sustainable future. The outline business case isn’t just about numbers, it’s about the shared vision and commitment of all partners to turn aspirations into reality.

We will now work with partners on exploring the case for the proposals, including engaging with Government on the plans and will keep you updated with progress.

When I became council leader, I outlined that supporting vulnerable people in Peterborough will be a key priority going forwards.

On this note, I am delighted that members will be asked to approve a new and improved package of support for children who have been cared for by the council at tomorrow’s cabinet meeting (Friday).

The council has always offered support to care leavers but this report outlines an enhanced package of support which will be easier for care leavers to access including payments for clothes, bills, activities and food; van or car hire to help them move into their first home; driving lessons; Vivacity gym and leisure passes; financial support for medical prescriptions and a 100 per cent discount on council tax until they reach the age of 25.

The proposals also include setting up a city centre drop-in service for care leavers to be able to access advice and support and learn vital life skills.

Our own self-evaluation told us that we needed to do more for care leavers, and this was reinforced by Ofsted inspectors at our latest inspection in November. We will continue to look at ways to enhance our current care offer.

I’m sure that many school pupils across the city are looking forward to the forthcoming Easter holidays as well as teachers and parents too.

Over the past few years, we’ve been supporting eligible families with supermarket vouchers during school holidays and I’m delighted that this will continue for Easter with £30 vouchers available.

The vouchers will be sent automatically to eligible families on Saturday 30 March using school data and information held by the city council.

I would urge families to check whether they may be eligible for free school meals during term time. Families currently paying for school meals would save around £450 a year for each primary school child if they were entitled to free school meals. Providing free school meals can also add up to £2,000 a year in Government funding to a school’s budget.

Information about free school meals and how to apply can be found at