Peterborough is languishing at the bottom of the country’s education league tables. It’s a worrying situation for parents, teachers, city leaders and everyone who has a stake in the education of the city’s young people. But according to one of the city’s leading entrepreneurs, Peterborough businesses cannot afford to ignore the crisis either.
Mike Greene talks to The Peterborough Hub about why education should be at the top of the business agenda.
For all of his wealth – and the fame which followed his involvement in the hit Channel 4 series The Secret Millionaire – Mike Greene certainly has a colourful turn of phrase and the ability and willingness to tell it how it is.
Putting lipstick on a pig is the least colourful of the metaphors he uses to describe efforts to improve Peterborough without addressing what he sees as the issue which lays at the very heart of the city’s problems – its failing education system.
The other involves covering excrement with a delicious brown confectionary. Not a phrase suitable perhaps for the first edition of a new business magazine, but one that conveys a very clear message.
What Mike means is that no matter what you do to “dress it up”, nothing is going to actually make Peterborough better until the problem of education is addressed.
However, despite the inherent suggestion that Peterborough deserves its reputation as one of the worst places in the country to live, Mike obviously loves the city.
As he says, he could choose to live and run his businesses from anywhere in the world, but he chooses Peterborough because it is where he has lived since the age of 11 and he has a ingrained fondness for the place.
He said: “I have spoken at every school in the city, I have mentored many businesses and I have supported more than 100 charities here because I love this city, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are 152 out of 152 local authorities in terms of primary education and ninth from bottom in secondary education.
“To me that’s a problem, but if you speak to many of the councillors or MP, who are obviously looking to be re-elected, they will always tells you that results are better than the year before.
“That may be the case but we are still bottom and we need to face the facts.
“And I think that this is an issue that businesses should be very concerned about for a number of reasons.
“For example, if you lived outside Peterborough and were looking to relocate here what is the first thing many people would look at?
“The schools. They are often the most important thing people consider when they are looking to move to a new area.
“If education is the primary lens through which people view Peterborough, they will not consider moving here.
“And of course, there’s the most obvious aspect which is that the students of today will be the workforce of tomorrow and it’s important for businesses that they have access to educated and motivated employees.
“So education is a real issue for businesses and I think if Peterborough was a business we would have sacked the head of education a long time ago.”
Mike firmly believes that the problem with education stems from the eagerness of those in a position to change things to stick their heads in the sand and refuse to admit there is a problem.
The rise and rise of the Secret Millionaire
Mike Greene moved back to Bretton with his mum as an 11-year-old and attended Bretton Woods School.
Although his mum had left the city when she first married, Mike is the fifth generation of his family to live in Peterborough.
By his early 20s he had set up his first business and although it failed, he went on to set up another and build a successful career as a retail entrepreneur.
He is a former trustee of Peterborough Cathedral and in 2011 appeared on Channel 4’s The Secret Millionaire, which sees millionaires go incognito to give away tens of thousands of pounds.
In 2012 Mike sold his research consultancy firm and invested in the popular music app Shazam, before it was sold to tech giant Apple.
In 2019, he stood in the by-election to become MP for Peterborough representing the Brexit Party.
Following the short attempt to enter politics in the hope of putting Peterborough first in Westminster, he now focuses on business, charity, mentoring and his personal life, with hobbies including mountaineering and sailing.
Only by looking at the facts as they truly are, rather than with rose tinted glasses, will things start to get better, in his opinion.
He said: “ What we need is for people to admit education is broken before we can fix it – otherwise it’s just putting lipstick on a pig.
“Rather than just being offended by those who criticise Peterborough and say it’s crap, we need to take it on the chin and look at what needs to happen to bring about change.
“We can’t sweep it under the carpet.
“We need to be solution-orientated and look at the big picture – the good, the bad and the ugly – and take it from there and do what needs to be done to make things better.
“We are on a journey. This isn’t going to happen overnight.
“We are perhaps ten years from fixing it, but we have to look at the true facts of where we are now to make a start on putting it right.
“Businesses have a role to play in calling on city leaders and making their voices heard to ensure they have access to an educated and motivated workforce in years to come.”
Why failure is crucial to success…
“If you don’t ever fail, you won’t succeed.”
It’s a key message that Mike shared in his book Failure Breeds Success, and which he feels is an important lesson for everyone to learn from an early age.
“You need to fall flat on your arse in the playground and pick yourself up and dust yourself off.
“The trouble is we live in a society where people see the National Lottery and X-Factor and think you can become a success or a millionaire overnight.
“They often don’t appreciate the hours of training top athletes put in, or the years that pop stars spend singing in pubs.
“In reality, success takes a long time and the truth is that when you first start anything you are likely to be crap at it, so you effectively fail your way to success.
“In that sense, kids generally are growing up with the false impression that failure is a bad thing, rather than failure just be a step on the journey.
“The old cliche is true, that the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary – and it’s often a hard message to hear, but it’s an important one.”