John Bridge, Chairman of Opportunity Peterborough, comments on recent media stories about immigration issues in Peterborough. Broadcast at 07:10 on Wednesday 14th April 2010 in the Paul Stainton Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Peterborough.
STAINTON: The Chairman of Opportunity Peterborough has criticised two city councillors for expressing their concern about the effect of immigration in Peterborough. You may have seen the stories in the newspapers at the weekend. Independent councillors Charlie Swift and Keith Sharp wrote to the leaders of the three main parties to tell them about the effect of EU migration in the North Ward. We covered the story way back in January, but it’s just featured in a range of national newspapers in recent days. Councillor Swift spoke to Radio Cambridgeshire yesterday. (TAPE)
SWIFT: Well I told them in no uncertain manner how my ward .. I’ve represented this ward for fifty six years, I’m very proud of the fact .. but I’ve seen it, not only this area but the areas adjacent to us, deteriorate. We’re waiting now, we’ve got about forty or fifty vacancies at the school round the corner, no places for children to go. We’re having to reopen schools that were closed only a few years ago because they said we haven’t got enough pupils. And I don’t think they realise that at the same time they’re talking about making drastic cuts in public expenditure, that it’s just not on. Because we’ve got all these extra pressures that are coming in. And there’s nothing racialist about it, they do not realise the effect at this present time, that all these extra bodies that we’ve got, on the health service, is creating. (LIVE)
STAINTON: Well the Daily Mail labelled Peterborough Migrant City over the weekend. And it’s this publicity that’s been slammed as unbalanced and unrepresentative of the city as a whole. John Bridge is Chairman of Opportunity Peterborough. Morning John.
BRIDGE: Yes good morning Paul.
STAINTON: Now Councillor Swift has been around the city quite a few years. In fact he was instrumental in welcoming the early migrants into the city. So he knows what he’s talking about John.
BRIDGE: Indeed he does. And certainly we understand the genuine nature of what he has obviously portrayed. But he is looking at pockets of difficulty that we have. And of course what has happened is the things that he has highlighted within his North Ward have now been portrayed as the complete picture of the kind of Peterborough that is there today. And of course, that is not the case, because if we talk to other councillors in other wards, and even other residents, they don’t recognise the picture that he has painted, which unfortunately seems to have tarnished the image of Peterborough.
STAINTON: Do you blame the councillors for this? Or do you blame the journalists for just making sweeping generalisations?
BRIDGE: Well I think the key thing is what you have to be very careful is not to give journalists the opportunity to sensationalise something which we do understand is a real problem. There are pockets of difficulty, and we do understand that we need to ensure that we get fair funding for Peterborough. And all the different parts of Peterborough, and all the people involved with it, need to fight very hard to ensure we get the correct level of funding to deal with these difficulties. But we also have many migrants that live and work and provide many benefits to Peterborough, and we do obviously have some who regretfully, for whatever reason, don’t have jobs, and live rough in certain areas. But these are just pockets which need to be dealt with properly, but they don’t represent the true picture of what Peterborough is today.
STAINTON: Could sensationalist headlines like there were at the weekend, could they damage the city? What damage could they do?
BRIDGE: Well the key thing is that Peterborough in particular has been identified as one of the key cities, ready to be able to take advantage of growth, and lead the UK out of recession. We have many companies who are interested in looking and investing here, and obviously what we don’t want them to do is to suddenly through the national newspapers get a completely unbalanced view of the way Peterborough is today, and not have the actual true reality of all the positive things that are happening in Peterborough, and all the benefits that Peterborough can provide to businesses investing here, including the workforce and the migrant workforce we have. And clearly we don’t want that information to actually adversely affect their thinking about Peterborough, and whether or not they would come here.
STAINTON: What are the positive things about Peterborough at the moment John? What should we be crowing about? What should we be shouting from the rooftops and splashing across the front of newspapers?
BRIDGE: Well there are many things that are happening. If we look at the brand new hospital that has just been built, and will be open soon, on budget and ahead of time, it is really a very significant progress for Peterborough. Cathedral Square, although obviously it’s had slight difficulties, is coming to the end ..
STAINTON: Slight. John, that’s a good word, slight. (LAUGHS) Go on. Carry on.
BRIDGE: But it will be coming to fruition, and I think people will see the benefits of that, and the kind of image that’s going to create in the centre. Peterborough is an excellent shopping centre for the retail public. And we get many people here, and last week during half-term, the city was vibrant and full of people, and the shops were full, the restaurants were full, and that is a real positive thing. And there’s a lot of atmosphere within Peterborough. And people do identify and like to be a part of Peterborough.
STAINTON: John, thank you for that. John Bridge Chairman of Opportunity Peterborough, who says there’s many many positive things about this city we should be crowing about. Councillor Swift has different views. Your views (CONTACT DETAILS). Or is the truth somewhere in the middle of all that?