Unmesh Desai: We must protect each other in the face of Omicron variant

City & East London Assembly Member Unmesh Desai
City & East London Assembly Member Unmesh Desai

It’s great to be writing my regular column for City Matters again. I hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

The pandemic has had a huge impact on the City with home working once again the order of the day. We were given a small taste of the City’s once thriving atmosphere over the summer, and I am hoping that its unique nightlife, restaurants, shops and attractions will be able to bounce back again as soon as possible, attracting tourists from across the world.

During this new Mayoral term, one of the main focuses so far has been on laying the foundations for a jobs-led economic recovery. Sadly, more than 300,000 Londoners have lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic so far and young people are finding it particularly difficult to get into high-skilled and secure careers.

Last month, it was good to see Sadiq Khan take action on this and invest in four new Career Hubs across the capital aimed at skilling-up and unlocking the talent of the next generation of Londoners.

However, low pay is still endemic in our capital and this is illustrated by the fact that over 40 percent of London’s one million Universal Credit claimants are actually in employment.

This is why I will continue to campaign alongside the Mayor to encourage more businesses across my City and East constituency to pay the London Living Wage, which was recently increased to £11.05 per hour.

Through my London Moving East initiative, I am also working with a diverse range of stakeholders to attract inward investment and promote the constituency as widely as possible.

Before Christmas, it was great to hear Catherine McGuinness, Chair of the Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee, speak at an event that I hosted at City Hall to showcase our part of London, where she discussed the City’s recovery plans and how it is continuing to adjust to the uncertainty of the post-Brexit era.

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I am also backing the measures put forward by the union, USDAW, in its Retail Recovery Plan, which wants to see SMEs given a desperately needed helping hand through business rates, commercial rent and tax reform and additional Government investment for local authorities and skills training.

Since lockdown measures eased in the summer, it has been great to spend more time going around the constituency and talking to local people in person. One of the recent highlights was being at the lively opening of the Portsoken Community Centre next to the Guinness Estate on Mansell Street, which was made possible by funding from the City of London Corporation.

I was delighted to attend the lighting of Tower Bridge in the colours of Bangladesh’s flag. This was organised by the Corporation to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence and to celebrate the contributions of the British-Bangladeshi community- with much credit going to Common Councillor, Munsur Ali, for this initiative.

I was also honoured to be invited to the Freedom of the City of London ceremony and see Shahidul Ratan and Sheikh Aliur Rahman receive awards for their respective work around promoting cricket and small businesses.

Finally, with the Omicron variant surging and the NHS being placed under unsustainable pressures, I am encouraging all City of London residents to continue to look out for and protect each other. The best way of doing this is take up the vaccine and the booster.

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