Opinion: ‘Learning the lessons is important’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council writes...

Sunday, 23rd May 2021, 5:00 am
Labour leader Shaz Nawaz wins Park Ward att the local elections.

There has been a bit of time to reflect on the recent local election: I am grateful to every last person who voted for me in Park Ward and for all our fine Labour councillors.

We had some near misses in terms of gaining seats; we will keep working hard throughout the city to ensure that Labour’s vision for the future is clearly communicated.

We will have a new leader of the council on Wednesday, May 26, and I want to wish Wayne Fitzgerald all the best.

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There are lessons learned as well.

Obviously, Labour’s message didn’t gain enough traction everywhere. Indisputably, there was a “vaccine bounce”: the sitting governments in Wales, Scotland, and England have reaped the rewards of the vaccines’ rapid rollout. Here in Peterborough, I believe we need to continue to develop and articulate our prospectus.

The Conservative administration may be feeling comfortable at this point: I wouldn’t, if I were them. Yes, they made gains in the north, but Cambridgeshire County Council fell to no overall control. It will be run by a Labour /Lib Dem/Independent administration.

Our wonderful new Labour mayor for Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, Dr Nik Johnson shone through with his win. Yes, the status quo prevailed in Peterborough, but no one party has overall control. There are definite signs that voters are less than enamoured with the Conservatives. They are going to have to shake themselves out of the natural complacency that has built up over two decades of running our city and focus on delivery.

There are many challenges ahead: recovery from the pandemic will need to be a top priority. This recovery is not just economic: entire communities have been atomised out of necessity. This could have a long tail effect of mental health problems.

Our children’s education has also been affected: while online learning has helped, there are social skills that one can only learn by being at school with others.

It’s also worth remembering that the pandemic isn’t really over just yet. So long as it rages in one part of the world, we are all vulnerable. The greater the virus spreads, the more chance it has to mutate into new strains which can find their way to our shores.

The latest mutation from India already has. The administration will have to quash it quickly before it takes hold, particularly since it’s unclear how well the vaccines work against it.

There are some sectors which will remain forever altered by the pandemic period: retail has been particularly badly hit. Office space is in less demand thanks to hybrid working. How will commerce and commercial property alter to suit the new circumstances?

Not everyone who worked in a retail outlet can transfer to labouring in a warehouse. Builders who proposed new office blocks may find these plans defunct: what impact will that have on construction? How will we mitigate the issues that arise?

There is a great deal for an administration to get through.

For our part, Labour will play the role of a responsible opposition, challenging plans and asking questions so that our city gets the help it so badly needs. We are learning lessons from this past election; however, our eyes are firmly fixed on the future.