The power of a strong community in Peterborough

Thomas Cook's offices in Lynch Wood, Peterborough
Thomas Cook's offices in Lynch Wood, Peterborough

M argaret Thatcher reportedly once said “There is no such thing as society”. Thank goodness, her assessment appears to have been incorrect, writes cllr Shaz Nawaz, Labour group leader on Peterborough City Council.

When Thomas Cook fell into the hands of the administrators, I was horrified on behalf of the employees; I still believe the government could have done more to rescue portions of the company.

The German government has aided Condor Airlines, a key part of Thomas Cook’s network. At the very least, the government could have worked with creditors to keep the profitable parts up and running. Instead, we were shown “laissez faire” at its most extreme.

Fortunately, what followed was an eloquent demonstration of the power of community. BGL and RS Components actively courted former Thomas Cook employees. Anne Corder Recruitment ran workshops. Peterborough Cars even offered free taxi rides for those former employees who needed transport to interviews. Far from there being no such thing as society, it exists alongside a strong sense of social responsibility.

We see the power of community throughout our city: the Green Backyard, for example, is a community run project. Needless Needles works to eliminate the scourge of discarded syringes in our city. The Labour Group and others do speedwatch activities to limit the amount of reckless driving in Peterborough.

No doubt, the Conservative administration will take this as validation of their “hands off” philosophy; I believe a senior Tory once suggested the presence of food banks was heartwarming as it indicated a continuing spirit of charity. However, the government can help or hinder the formation of strong communities; it can support community groups or leave them to struggle, it can be a partner, or it can be a nuisance.

My experience suggests that the Conservative administration leans more towards the latter tendencies than the former.

Furthermore, the response of the community to Thomas Cook’s demise should give the Conservatives pause.

Perhaps there is such a thing as society; perhaps we are better when we work together, rather than locked in endless cycles of competition, and Darwinian struggles of the survival of the fittest.

Perhaps the lesson to be drawn is that in a world that is full of challenges, we should be drawing together, rather than dividing further.

We in the Labour Group have taken the lesson to heart; personally, I am working on getting professional speakers to advise former Thomas Cook employees. When, and if, the voters entrust the responsibility of running our city to us next May, we will build upon the strong community spirit that is already there.

We will provide active support to the groups which are already doing so much good. If indeed a recession comes due to the Conservative government’s fecklessness, we will work with local businesses to set up workshops to help the unemployed.

We already have a local economic strategy which seeks to bolster Peterborough’s growth: we will choose local firms when procuring goods and services. More can be done; the power of community is the key.