THE HARLOW councillor at the head of the Covid-19 recovery has praised all the organisations in the town who have helped the community since March.
However, at the heart of councillor Eugenie Harvey’s speech made at a meeting of Harlow Council’s Cabinet on Thursday night was a recognition that Harlow has to take on the challenge of youth unemployment.
Here is a transcript of councillor Harvey’s speech.
You can pick the speech and comments on the Harlow Council YouTube film from 24 minutes onward.
“IN introducing this report, I want to begin by acknowledging the hardship that every person in our town has endured these past 16 weeks.
Bereavement, sickness, fear, anxiety, loneliness and anger have fallen over our town like a thick blanket. On some the blanket has fallen heavily, others it has touched more lightly, but every one of us has felt its weight.
At the same time, we’ve been lifted up by incredible examples of individual and collective resilience, generosity and courage. Thousands of people risked their lives working in hospitals and care homes and delivering other essential services to keep us safe. Too many, lost their lives in doing so.
Heroic contributions were also made by other sections of our community – teachers, shop workers, bin men, transport workers, post men and women and of course the army of volunteers and mutual aid groups which sprang up to support our most vulnerable residents.
For the Council, this has of course been an entirely unprecedented experience and I want to acknowledge hard work and adaptability of officers and the leadership shown by Brian Keane and his senior management.
Working closely with Rainbow Services and our many other excellent voluntary organizations, the Community Hub which we managed, dealt with over 60,000 inquiries from residents, made just under 3000 telephone calls to vulnerable residents and referred over 900 people and families to partner agencies for specialist support.
Our website was kept updated with latest information and guidance and was visited by 24,000 people.
We paid out £933,000 of government hardship grants to 4,800 residents receiving Council Tax support.
We’ve given out £11.4m in government grants to 868 local businesses.
And we’ve given extended retail relief to 524 business rate payers, totalling around £17.5m, all the while maintaining essential services and taking necessary steps to temporarily close others.
The speed with which these vital funds were dispersed, faster in fact than neighbouring Councils, greatly minimised the distress and anxiety experienced by many residents.
And so we cautiously emerge from lockdown and begin to survey the damage, much of which will only become evident over the coming months and potentially years.
What we do know is that Harlow has the highest level of furloughed workers in Essex with 35.2% of workers furloughed compared to 25% in Chelmsford and Brentwood. More worrying than that even is that Harlow has 40% newly inactive residents – that is furloughed and newly unemployed – compared to 27% in Chelmsford.
And our young people are particularly badly hit; whereas Harlow has a claimant count of 8.8% for all adults compared to the national average of 6.5%, young people in Harlow aged under 24 years old have a claimant count of 12.9% compared to the national average of 8.7%.
We also know that employment sectors are being hit differently. The details of which jobs have been most affected are not yet known, but it can be surmised that certain sectors will struggle more to recover.
We can see from the national picture that many retail and hospitality outlets will not reopen again and that staff will be made redundant once the furlough scheme runs out. Harlow has a higher than the national average proportion of residents that work in the wholesale and retail, with over 8,000 residents working in the sector equating to 19.5% compared to a national average of 15.2%.
For the 800 or so Harlow residents working in the Arts, Entertainment and Recreation sector, the future remains very uncertain as no date has yet been given for the reopening of these businesses although this week’s announcement of government supports for the arts offers some reassurance.
Stansted Airport has of course been massively affected. We are aware that the majority of staff who work at the airport were furloughed and there have been several announcements recently of companies linked to the airport making large scale redundancies. We are aware that prior to lockdown there were around 850 Harlow residents who worked at the airport. It can be surmised that the majority of these will have been furloughed and many will now be unemployed.
And of course for each individual story of hardship, there is the knock on effect on family and loved ones.
So against that backdrop, I’m very pleased to propose the Covid 19 Recovery – Progress and Working Group Terms of Reference Report to Cabinet.
It provides the foundations for the Council to develop and deliver an ambitious and far reaching plan for the town’s recovery which both mitigates the negative impacts on our businesses, voluntary organisations and faith groups, the housing sector, and of course residents, as well as looking at the opportunities that have been created and how we capitalise on them.
Many, if not all of us, have found new ways of working, of doing business, of socialising and staying connected, of learning, of travelling around and of helping one another I’m determined that we hold on to the best of these and use them as the foundation for the growth and prosperity we have long been planning for.
But clearly there are going to be enormous economic pressure and funds will inevitably be limited. Therefore as well as being ambitious about new initiatives and opportunities, we need to look at existing and planned activity and consider how it might best support the recovery and resilience agenda.
“I very much look forward to working collaborative and strategically with the cross party working group, members of which will in fact be noted under item 16 of tonight’s agenda. To that end, that is Recommendation D of the report is that the Terms of Reference be confirmed at its first meeting on July 22nd, giving all members the opportunity to contribute. The group will meet monthly thereafter doing everything within its power to ensure that the Harlow that emerges from Covid-19 is vibrant, sustainable, fair and inclusive. A place where every person can thrive”.
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