My first blog in ages has been prompted by two events in a few days. Let’s start with the happier one.
On Friday, 20 March, I was privileged to attend the 11th annual Mayor’s Civic Awards (otherwise known as the ‘Doras’) in Walsall’s magnificent Town Hall. I had nominated one of the finalists, Mr Peter Roberts, a long-time friend, Chair of Streetly Neighbourhood Watch and all-round good guy.
Peter is one of those people who goes out of his way to help others without expecting anything in return. In his neighbourhood watch capacity he not only organises and chairs meetings but also delivers the regular magazine and is always on call to assist a victim of crime. Peter is also Chair of the Friends of Blackwood Park, where he has helped to restore an old pavilion to use, and where he also organises ‘BBQ in the Park’ events to keep youngsters entertained during the school holidays. He does so much for the community I’m surprised he finds time for anything else!
Anyway, back to the awards. The event was opened by Walsall Mayor Councillor Pete Smith and introduced by Walsall-born TV presenter Bob Warman. Following a lovely three-course meal we went into the awards proper. I don’t know how many nominations had been made however I would guess that the judges would have had difficulty whittling them down to the fifteen ‘local heroes’ (well actually seventeen as two were joint nominations). For the last few years, Walsall’s Civic Awards have not been made in the traditional categories, instead each of the five sponsors decide on their top three, from which they then choose their winner. So there are five winners, plus the Mayor makes two awards of his own. I was humbled to be in the company of so many people who do so much for their communities. Well done to them all.
On a completely different topic, earlier this week I was privy to a presentation given by a representative of the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority (GLA) who gave us an insight into the seedy world of trafficked people, intimidation, slavery and benefit fraud which goes on all around with few of us being aware. The GLA, set up in the wake of the Morecambe Bay cockle-pickers tragedy, regulate labour provision in the agricultural, shellfish gathering and food packaging/processing industries. What I heard was shocking. People from many parts of the world are trafficked (both into and around this country), sold on, indebted, exploited, forced to work for little or no pay, forced to become sex workers or slaves. The exploiters are criminal gangs who make vast sums of money, not only from these poor unfortunates’ labour, but also from you and I via the benefits system, making fraudulent housing and child benefit claims among others. Slave bosses and human traffickers are taking vast sums off the UK taxpayer which they are using to live lavish lifestyles. The most recent, and thought to be conservative, estimate is that there are around ten to twelve thousand slaves in the UK. This is a disgrace, however there is something that we can all do about it. Firstly, to find out more about this largely hidden crime, read the GLA publication ‘Spotting The Signs’. Then, if or when you do spot a sign, report it to the police or the GLA. Working in partnership, agencies and the public can make a vast difference to peoples’ lives.