Opinion: ‘Effort to help the needy continues’

Wayne Fitzgerald, city council leader and Conservative group leader on Peterborough City Council writes...

Sunday, 29th August 2021, 10:45 am
Efforts to feed those in need continue.

There’s no denying that the past 18 months have been extremely challenging for towns and cities across the UK.

Many once busy shopping areas became ghost towns for weeks on end during lockdown and some have struggled to recover.

I’m pleased to say that’s not the case in Peterborough, with the latest data showing that the city is bouncing back well following the lifting of Covid-19 social distancing restrictions.

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The stats which tell us how many people are visiting our city are promising, with weekend footfall equalling and even exceeding pre-Covid-19 levels on some weekends throughout July, which is fantastic.

In addition, a higher proportion of city centre visitors are coming from outside the area than the national average (45 per cent vs 38 per cent) and we have a higher night-time footfall (77 per cent, compared to national average of 61 per cent).

This shows our cafe culture approach to get people spending more time in our city centre is working.

It’s revitalised the area in the evenings and lots of people have been taking advantage of the summer months and lack of overseas travel to socialise and get a ‘holiday vibe’ in their own city. It’s been a good summer – despite the weather!

We have also increased the number of street vendors and themed markets to attract people back to the city centre, which is working well, and we have supported businesses to adapt and change to create more business opportunities (e.g. introducing takeaway and delivery options during lockdowns).

It’s great to see our city centre bustling with life once again, but we also know there is more that we can do to make it appealing for everyone, whether it’s to shop, eat, drink, or mill around.

I received a letter from a resident this week which pointed out some of the issues he has with our city centre – cleanliness, street drinking and begging for example. He is not the first to point these issues out to me and they are things that I see myself when I am walking around. Unfortunately, they are features of every city centre in the country, but that does not mean that we cannot work to address them. It is a priority, and I will be arranging a meeting with police colleagues to see what more can be done to tackle anti-social behaviour in the city centre.

The crisis in Afghanistan has dominated recent headlines and I’m sure we have all been distressed by the harrowing scenes at Kabul airport.

Residents have been in touch asking what the council can do to help those affected whilst continuing to support our own vulnerable people.

Let’s be clear, this is a humanitarian crisis, and we will do whatever we can to provide Afghan citizens with support, whilst remaining fully committed to helping those here who need it most.

In fact, our efforts to help are already well under way. Back in June, all local authorities were contacted by the government, seeking support to resettle Afghan families with the aim of offering a pathway to permanent resettlement.

Many of the people eligible have worked as military interpreters, often risking their lives in helping the UK’s military forces. They now find themselves at increased risk of harm from the Taliban.

We have confirmed our intention to help and are actively working to identify suitable housing and appropriate support.

The council is already running a similar scheme for Syrian refugees, which has resulted in several families settling into our communities – something we welcome as a proud multicultural city.

I am confident that the successes of this initiative will be replicated with the Afghan scheme.

I have been hugely impressed with the number of summer vouchers we have been able to send out to eligible families across Peterborough.

Over 11,500 vouchers have been sent to families of children across Peterborough receiving free school meals. The £30 vouchers are a continuation of the scheme which operated in previous school holidays and half-term breaks.

In addition to the summer vouchers, a further £10,000 has been given to CareZone in Peterborough to ensure they are able to support families with emergency supplies. These vouchers will go a long way to helping children and their families cope with the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

Peterborough City Council’s Community Hub is in place to be able to help families access further support. Details can be found at www.peterborough.gov.uk/wintersupport and they can be contacted on 0345 045 5219.

As part of my ambition for the council to be even more open and transparent with our residents, I recently started a monthly session called ‘Ask the Leader’.

It’s an informal online meeting, giving residents a chance to put questions to myself and council officers on any issues that affect their daily lives.

The next Ask the Leader takes place on Tuesday (August 31) and you can watch it back afterwards on the council’s YouTube channel. You can also submit questions for the next event on September 28, to [email protected] and we will respond with details and a link to the meeting.