Monthly Archives: August, 2017
North Ward / Waterlees Has Three New Councillors
Following the abrupt and expensive resignations of Cllrs Lay, Bucknor and Bucknor from Wisbech Town Council, a by-election has been held to find three replacements.
The political battleground was a straight duel between Labour and the Conservatives.
Labour threw everything and the kitchen sink at it. Volunteers were drafted in from far and wide and the most comprehensive campaign I’ve seen them run in recent years took place.
I think that letting the Bucknors have a free ride for years has seriously harmed their base in the area, because despite giving it their best and throwing lots of resources at it, they failed to make the mark they hoped. Nevertheless, they ran a clean campaign and did not get bogged down in the nastiness and vitriol seen from other quarters. They can be proud of their part in a well-fought and fair by-election.
I am pleased and proud that all three seats were won, comfortably, by the three Conservative candidates; Andy Maul, Laura Cobb and Andrew Lynn. All three are completely fresh faces to the local political scene and I am looking forwards to working with them for many years to come.
FENLAND DSTRICT COUNCIL: PRESS RELEASE
Roma project will ease pressure on resident communities and services
A catalyst to integrate one of the most vulnerable and misunderstood migrant communities in the region has been launched thanks to more than £150,000 of government funding.
Fenland District Council has received a grant from the Department of Communities and Local Government’s Controlling Migration Fund (CMF) to deliver a project aimed at the East of England’s Roma community.
The Parallel Lives Project will not only help to ease pressures on local services as a result of Romani migration, but will also tackle chronic discrimination against the community and help to establish a more cohesive and mutually respectful environment.
Working in partnership with the East of England Strategic Migration Partnership (SMP), the Council will deliver the two-year project in two phases.
Firstly it will gather data and local intelligence on Roma communities. Research has shown Roma to be disproportionately affected by poverty and discriminated against in employment, education and health care, and by other local communities – both resident and other migrant. In many instances they live ‘parallel lives’, at a distance from other groups.
The project will also identify the key pressures on local services and the impact that has on resident communities, before developing solutions to the issues in phase two.
The solutions will depend on the outcome of the first phase, although project leaders anticipate that a minimum of six Roma community champions will be identified to work in each part of the region with the highest concentration of Roma people – Fenland, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich, Luton, Peterborough and Southend.
Roma cultural competence training will also be developed and rolled out, and workshops held to bring Roma people together with frontline services.
Councillor Mike Cornwell, Fenland District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Communities, said: “By engaging with Roma people, and bringing them closer to local services and service providers, this project will be a catalyst for Roma integration across the region’s most highly pressurised areas of inward migration.”
“The longer-term gain for the established community is a more cohesive environment where all residents are encouraged and enabled to co-exist harmoniously, rather than living lives which can induce mistrust, exclusion and the socio-economic costs of racial violence.”
FENLAND DISTRICT COUNCIL
Rogue landlords who exploit migrants in poor housing to be targeted by new inspection team
Rogue landlords who exploit migrants in sub-standard accommodation in Wisbech are set to be targeted by a new team of enforcers – thanks to government funding.
The officers will inspect thousands of privately-rented homes in the town to crackdown on overcrowding and dangerous conditions to help both the tenants themselves and neighbouring families.
The government’s Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has given Fenland District Council £192,370 from its Controlling Migration Fund to launch the enforcement plan.
Two new private-sector housing officers will work alongside Operation Pheasant, the multi-agency task force set up in 2012 to tackle migrant exploitation across Fenland.
In its bid to the DCLG, the council said although Operation Pheasant is successful in tackling housing condition issues, rogue landlords, gangmasters and organised crime groups, additional resource was needed to get to grips with the issues in Wisbech.
It also said high levels of deprivation, coupled with significant inward migration and cheap poor quality housing, has meant the town has become a hub for exploitation. Rogue landlords take advantage of the fact people who are relatively new to the country don’t know they can complain about it, or are afraid to.
The new two-year project will see house-to-house inspections carried out on around 10,500 private rented properties to identify failings and take enforcement action where necessary. Data will also be gathered to enable effective monitoring, and intelligence shared with the Operation Pheasant task force.
Information packs will also be provided to tenants with advice on how to access local services and fire safety and information on workers’ rights, human trafficking and exploitation.
Councillor Will Sutton, Fenland District Council’s Portfolio Holder responsible for private-sector housing, said: “Poor quality private-rented accommodation has become a breeding ground for migrants to exist in sometimes dire and dangerous conditions, frequently overcrowded without basic safety standards in place.
“In Fenland we are working hard to tackle criminal landlords and through this extra funding, we expect to see a reduction in the number of these landlords letting out such accommodation and exploiting tenants.
“I would like to pay tribute to council officers, as once again they have put together a successful, strong evidence-based bid to DCLG.”
A Walk In The Park
Facebook has been full of complaints about people drinking in St Peters Church Gardens and, after a photo of a lady sleeping on a bench was posted triggering another long debate, I popped along this afternoon to walk through again and see what was going on.
The Gardens were busy. Every bench had people on it and there was a person asleep in a heap near the entrance to the Church Hall. I walked along the path talking to people as I went and trying to take an unbiased look at the situation outside of my own perspective.
I will admit, I rarely feel “threatened” in Wisbech, and if people are sitting and having a beer outside it doesn’t particularly concern me as long as they are not behaving antisocially while doing so. But other people feel strongly about it and I tried to put myself in their shoes.
So the first two benches were filled with Eastern Europeans. It was a mixed crowd of many and women, adults of varying ages. They were smoking, chatting and a few were drinking from cans. Nobody was acting antisocially and there was no litter. But with the benches facing each other across the path you did have to walk through the middle of them. I can see that some people might feel intimidated walking between two groups of adults who had cans of beer and were speaking a different language. I personally felt fine about it, but I can appreciate how somebody vulnerable, or perhaps older, or of a nervous disposition would not.
Which is a shame, because when I spoke to them they could not have been friendlier. I asked them if they were enjoying the sunshine – really just to talk to them and get an idea what mood they were in – and they were surprised and pleased to respond. They told me they were glad it was the weekend and were looking forward to relaxing. None were very drunk, though some had the enthusiastic manner you associate with a few jars.
The middle benches had a young couple and a child in a pram, also Eastern European. This bench was surrounded by the discarded husks of seeds eaten as a snack. I know this annoys some people. The couple weren’t drinking and were just sitting and enjoying the sun.
The benches around the pond featured an elderly couple eating sandwiches and two young English girls talking on their mobile phones. Nobody was unfriendly.
Near the ‘Spoons end of the Gardens a large group of Eastern European men filled most of the path. I did already know some of these guys, having met them while out and about before. They all said “hello” and wanted to shake hands. None were very drunk, but again a few had that “first couple of pints” energy about them. Again there was a pile of discarded seeds here. I noticed that these guys were putting their litter in a carrier bag. The seed husks didn’t appear to be theirs, but had been left from some earlier visitor.
Overall the park was clean and mostly litter-free and looked great. I did not encounter anybody who was breaking the law, they all just seemed to be enjoying the sunshine and the gardens. Talking, laughing, smoking and yes, drinking.
I made my way to the bench outside the Gardens where the photo had been taken but the mysterious sleeping woman was gone.
I then circled back around to check on the person who was asleep on the grass. I woke her to check she was okay, and immediately recognised her. She was an English lady who is quite well known, she is usually seen with her partner (well, I think he is her partner, I don’t know for sure) around the Market Place area and often at Town Events and was also living in a tent near Asda not so long ago, I think. Funnily enough, while I was checking she was okay, an Eastern European lady and gentleman rushed over. At first I wasn’t sure why, but then it became clear they were worried I might try and rob her while she was sleeping and were making sure she was okay. I explained I was doing the same and all was well. It’s fair to say she was clearly very drunk and was planning to lay quietly on the grass and snooze for a while yet.
So – what are the issues?
Well, obviously, there’s a sizeable number of people who just don’t want to see anybody drinking outside, ever. They don’t like it. They will never like it. And they want it to be illegal. it isn’t illegal, at the moment, and they are very unhappy that the law isn’t changing fast enough.
There is a smaller group of people who primarily don’t want to see people drinking outside if they are Eastern European, but are relaxed otherwise. I don’t have any time for those people.
There are people who think that being asleep on a bench or on the grass is disgraceful and don’t want to see that either. The fact that its quite legal to lay on a bench or on the grass is not good enough and those people would like to see that banned too.
Again, there’s a smaller group of people whose issue seems to be primarily the nationality of those who are asleep.
Then there’s this business of the seeds that are eaten as snacks and the husks discarded. Although that doesn’t seem the same as non-biological litter to me, I can see no reason why the FDC litter officers can’t issue on-the-spot fines for that too. After all, it’s not that hard to put the husks into a plastic bag rather than on the floor.
The forthcoming PSPO will solve a number of the issues here, providing it is enforced.
There is a part of me that wishes people would just talk to each other, though. I cannot stress strongly enough how friendly the people I spoke to in the park were. Instead of feeling intimidated by people sitting on a bench, or drinking from a can, if people would just say: “Hi! Nice day, isn’t it?” I think they’d be surprised how their outlook changed. But maybe that’s just my rose-tinted glasses at work again.
Allotments and Afternoon Teas
This morning I was walking around acres of Town Council allotments, helping judge which win the annual allotment awards.
Unknown to many, Wisbech is full of these little secret gardens, growing fresh vegetables and delicious fruit. Gardeners toiling quietly away to make their plot vibrant, colourful and fruitful.
Later in the day I was at Elgoods Brewery enjoying an afternoon tea with the residents of St Johns House, who are ably looked after by the Wisbech Charities organisation. I enjoyed the whole day and met a lot of interesting and engaging people.
The Spinney Fun Day 2017
I had a fantastic day at the Spinney. First opening the new pagoda that was donated by the Clarion/Circle group and then being the DJ for crowds of excited kids throughout the day.
I enjoyed last year’s event too, but this year was exceptional. Particularly good fun was the water slide, made from simple materials on the little zip wire hill. Laughing happy kids covered in mud and soaking wet ran about the place in a frenzy of fun activity.