Why we need to give our youngsters hope

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It’s distressing when our city appears in the national news for all the wrong reasons, writes Cllr Shaz Nawaz, leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council.

The fire at the Whirlpool factory on Shrewsbury Avenue was one such occasion.

The fire damaged 52 lorry trailers and did £2 million worth of damage. The smoke forced residents to keep their windows and doors shut.

What makes the blaze even more disturbing is the fact that the alleged perpetrators were all so young: the oldest among them was 19 years old. The youngest was 15. The obvious question is: what might have led them to such action?

We cannot speculate about the Whirlpool blaze - that is an ongoing investigation, but we can look at the issues impacting many young people in the city in general.

Politicians often are at a remove from the results of their policies. The end product is revealed in opaque statistics, which are open to interpretation: should we be glad that so many people are employed if their jobs are low skilled and low wage? Do savings on a budget represent a real step forward if they cost the city more in the long term?

Our current administration both nationally and locally has failed. Austerity forced deep cuts into children’s services which could have provided support; it took an axe to law enforcement which could have ensured respect for the law and private property. Our local administration seems more interested in vanity projects like Fletton Quays than in youth services, which could provide something for young people to do.

A colleague of mine once told me about an incident near one of our city’s parks. A suspicious pall of smoke emerged from a set of trees. A quick investigation showed that some young people had set fire to a mattress and other rubbish which had been dumped illegally.

The fire brigade was called; the blaze was quickly extinguished. It was a minor incident; but if you had asked the young people in question why they had done this, tedium was part of the answer. This was in a part of the city which has so far been untouched by the supposed economic growth that has occurred since 2010.

When people are hopeless and feel trapped, they have less restraint to destructive impulses. Today’s burnt mattress becomes tomorrow’s factory fire. Education would be considered a ladder out of this morass, but this too has been cut. Our society is becoming increasingly stratified in favour of those who have privileged lives. We are told by those in power by their actions, if not by their words, that this is somehow natural and normal.

It is not. We need to instil hope for better in the hearts of the young; we need policies which will make it so. If we continue as we are, we can only expect the fabric of our society to further unravel. I do not believe the tired administration both here and Westminster are capable of making this change. We will.