Business

Peterborough: Eastern Powerhouse

The final report of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review was published in September. It carries big implications for our region and sets out some ambitious targets. Here’s what it means for Peterborough

There’s been a lot of recent publicity surrounding the findings of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER) – and for good reason! Launched last January, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Commission (CPIEC) was set up to initially produce a report that accurately captures the current economic and employment picture in our region. The final report, published in September, goes on to emphasise the importance of planning now in order to unlock strong, sustainable and inclusive growth over the coming decades. It sets out 14 recommendations to achieve this. The report drew on the expertise of several commissioners – prominent experts in the fields of business, academia and economics – chaired by Dame Kate Barker, one of the country’s foremost economists. A thorough consultation process involved numerous stakeholders, key businesses and all councils in the area who submitted the evidence necessary to compile the report. An interim report, published in May, went out for further consultation and refinement.

WHY IT MATTERS
The purpose of the CPIER is to create a single voice for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to consider the case for greater devolution of funding and power to this area. The hope is that the report will prove the touchpaper that ignites the delivery of major infrastructure projects and improvements, while demonstrating to the rest of the UK how important our corner of Eastern England is to the national economy. Having now published the final report, the CPIEC will continue to provide strategic economic advice and guidance to inform decision making, policy development and local investment. Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, James Palmer, has confirmed that the Combined Authority Board will endorse and support all of the recommendations made in the report.

DAME KATE BARKER, CHAIR OF THE CPIEC
Given the importance of the area greater fiscal devolution akin to something like other metro mayors is a natural step. The Combined Authority and local authorities need to work together to build the strong case for more powers and funding to be devolved to the local level, in order to improve the economy while improving the quality of life right across the area.  

LOCAL-LEAD
The CPIER proposes a local-lead approach to address shortcomings in housing and infrastructure such as transport. By giving local authorities more powers and funding, they can plan for the anticipated growth in our region, a conclusion backed by the Mayor: “Decisions taken locally are always more likely to be successful than those made in Westminster and beyond. “Through devolution, the Combined Authority will get the powers necessary to deliver the changes needed. But we have to ask Government for particular powers – that’s what we do. We’re looking at the areas where we feel we are making the difference to request those powers. “The report gives us the evidence base we need to talk to government about our ambitions. It isn’t necessarily telling us stuff we didn’t know, but provides the evidence to back it up, from world-renowned and respected economists.”

THE FINDINGS
The report identifies three distinct economies across the area – Greater Cambridge (including south Cambridgeshire), Peterborough and The Fens – and suggests policies necessary to meet the specific needs of each and develop mutual strengths across the region. The Mayor’s Devolution Deal with Government, which saw the launch of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority in May 2017, included a target to nearly double economic output over the next 25 years, from £22billion to £40billion. The report suggests the actions needed to do this in a way that benefits everyone. This includes efforts by companies to boost their efficiency while paying closer attention to the health and well-being of their workforce. Data gathered in the report suggests recent employment growth has been far higher than official government statistics suggest – as high as 3.3% a year. But unless a concerted effort is made to address local constraints, this growth could prove unsustainable. One example is that while employment grew 15% in the four years from 2012, housing stock grew by less than 4%.

PETERBOROUGH’S ECONOMY
Peterborough is the fourth fastest growing city in the country, with a vibrant economy to match. In order to safeguard office space the report recommends that central Peterborough should be exempt from permitted development rights that allow for the conversion of office space to residential. It also advises that investment from the public sector be put towards creating new high-grade office space in the city centre. Tom Hennessy, Chief Executive of economic development company Opportunity Peterborough, agrees: “The general consensus is that what has already been converted into residential wasn’t necessarily fit for commercial use any more. What we now need is quality office space that is going to attract business operations from London or internationally. “The recent move by the City Council in working with LDA Design and Barker Storey Matthews to develop the design framework for the city centre will certainly help.” The framework aims to regenerate the derelict North Westgate site, as well as the station gateway, Embankment area and Rivergate. The report heavily emphasises the urgent transport improvements needed to alleviate the growing pains of Greater Cambridge, considering it the single most important infrastructure priority facing the Combined Authority in the sort to medium term. Any improvements will inevitably ripple out to Peterborough.

TOM HENNESSY, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, OPPORTUNITY PETERBOROUGH
The CPIER is good news for Peterborough. It confirms to a lot of us what we already knew as well as adding some nuance to those discussions and debates. It is comprehensive in looking at the broader area and all of our positions within that, so we can make the kinds of strategic decisions that are needed to drive prosperity forward across the area. With its recommendations now published it’s time for Peterborough and Cambridgeshire to take action. I would urge all businesses to continue to engage with Opportunity Peterborough and the local authority so we can work towards a common goal that results in inclusive growth. 

PETERBOROUGH’S ECONOMY
Peterborough is the fourth fastest growing city in the country, with a vibrant economy to match. In order to safeguard office space the report recommends that central Peterborough should be exempt from permitted development rights that allow for the conversion of office space to residential. It also advises that investment from the public sector be put towards creating new high-grade office space in the city centre. Tom Hennessy, Chief Executive of economic development company Opportunity Peterborough, agrees: “The general consensus is that what has already been converted into residential wasn’t necessarily fit for commercial use any more. What we now need is quality office space that is going to attract business operations from London or internationally. “The recent move by the City Council in working with LDA Design and Barker Storey Matthews to develop the design framework for the city centre will certainly help.” The framework aims to regenerate the derelict North Westgate site, as well as the station gateway, Embankment area and Rivergate. The report heavily emphasises the urgent transport improvements needed to alleviate the growing pains of Greater Cambridge, considering it the single most important infrastructure priority facing the Combined Authority in the sort to medium term. Any improvements will inevitably ripple out to Peterborough.

FUTURE SKILLS
Business as usual isn’t an option if economic output is to almost double. The Commission found significant evidence pointing to a lack of skills training available to support local business. Particularly in the light of a probable fall in migration, investment in skills by both employers and the public sector should be a high priority. “We need to develop higher level skills in our workforce and see a step-change in productivity growth so that businesses in the city can increase their competitiveness and achieve their growth ambitions,” says Hennessy. “This means leveraging technology, automation, artificial intelligence – the sorts of things that will revolutionise business over the next few decades and help drive prosperity.” Peterborough is currently one of the biggest places in the country without a university. The planned Peterborough University has huge potential to produce the graduates required to help the city forge ahead by offering degrees that are closely linked to industry. This would make it very distinct from Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin Universities.

The report acknowledges that high levels of investment will be key to ensuring the new university is a success and recommends it makes a clearly defined offer centred on subjects that both integrate with the local economy and embrace new technologies. Furthermore, it advises that government and the Combined Authority enter discussions on devolving all skills funding as part of a second stage devolution deal. A university producing graduates suited to the local economy could transform the skillset of Peterborough’s workforce. “It is also going to give many of our residents access to higher education opportunities they haven’t had before,” adds Hennessy. Of course, education starts the moment we’re born with experiences in early years determining life chances later on. “Thirteen percent of the adult population in Peterborough doesn’t have any skills at all, and it’s affecting our economy as a whole,” says Palmer. This is picked up by the report, which proposes further research into the benefits of early years, Surestart-style provision, particularly in more deprived communities and hard-to-reach groups. It suggests this research should establish what needs to be done to narrow then eliminate educational gaps at individual, school and regional levels.

JAMES PALMER, MAYOR OF CAMBS AND PETERBOROUGH
Our area pays £5billion a year into the national economy. To create that growth for government we have to invest, so we need our fair share back. The report proves to government that we have achieved, are achieving and can achieve for our economy. We have no lack of ambition to drive our economy forwards. We have no lack of ambition to provide the houses necessary for the people. And we have no lack of ambition to provide the infrastructure to drive the growth that government needs. 

HEALTH AND HOMES
Health and wellbeing were found to be a serious concern in many places, with a real knock-on effect for productivity. The report recommends establishing an Opportunity Area for Health in the north of the region to address this. “We are working with our partners at Peterborough City Council and the County Council to establish what can be done for health,” explains Mayor Palmer. “We have ongoing work with experienced consultants and we’re working with Public Health England. We will take the results and go from there.” The original devolution deal anticipated dialogue around further devolution – of health and social care funding – which is deemed a necessary step towards tackling local health issues.

Health and happiness extends to having somewhere comfortable and safe to live. The report emphasises that house building rates need to accelerate – potentially up to twice the current level – to allow for sustainable high-pace growth and make up for an accumulated backlog. It projects that current housing targets must rise from 4,700 per year to between 6,000 and 8,000 a year. These homes should be well-designed and set within a healthy natural environment, where natural capital is enhanced and new developments designed to improve existing communities and enhance quality of life for all.

WORKING TOGETHER
The final recommendations advise new collaborative ways of working be found that meet the needs of each of the three distinctive economies in the region. Ways of working should align strategic visions of these economies. The report concludes by inviting the government to commit itself to bring the area in line with other Combined Authorities and then to break new ground in the ‘devolution revolution’.

CPIER Download the full report at www.cpier.org.uk   

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