Banbury High Steward sets out work plan to help the area out of the coronavirus lockdown

Former MP and High Steward of Banbury, Sir Tony Baldry, has outlined his commitment to helping the area to deal with the far-reaching consequences of the Covid-19 crisis.

By Roseanne Edwards
Tuesday, 12th May 2020, 3:57 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th May 2020, 4:26 pm
Sir Tony Baldry, former Banbury MP, High Steward of Banbury and Deputy Lieutenant for Banbury
Sir Tony Baldry, former Banbury MP, High Steward of Banbury and Deputy Lieutenant for Banbury

Sir Tony, who is also Deputy Lieutenant for Banbury hopes to take a lead in the town once the country starts to emerge from lockdown. He has discussed his plans with the Queen's representative in Oxfordshire, the Lord Lieutenant, Tim Stevenson.

His plans include helping vital charities to adapt and survive, harnessing a significant increase in volunteers, supporting the unemployed and helping to create a meaningful future for Banbury town centre.

"The first of these is ensuring the survival of local charities which have been doing excellent work for many years, whose finances have been hit by CV-19 and whose work patterns have had to change quite dramatically with added costs and logistical challenges," said Sir Tony.

Banbury town centre before the majority of shops closed on the orders of government

"They include Katharine House Hospice, Banbury Young Homelessness Project (BYHP), the Beacon Centre, the Sunshine Centre and local self-help organisations such as Banbury MS Society. These charities very often rely on older people for leadership and organisation.

"One of the few bits of good news from Covid-19 has been the significant number of new people who have come forward to volunteer with organisations such as the RVS and Banbury Citizens Advice Bureau, helping distribute food boxes.

"Once lockdown eases, we need to work out collectively how we retain the involvement of these volunteers and find ways that enable them to continue to give support, particularly to older people in the community."

Sir Tony recalled the very low unemployment figures before the coronavirus emergency hit.

"Banbury had an unemployment rate of less than one per cent as we went into CV-19 and it is difficult to predict what it will be in the coming months but it is almost certain that once the Government ceases to fund the furlough scheme, a number of business locally - both big and small - will choose to make people redundant rather than re-engage them.

"This will include many who never in their wildest nightmares expected to become unemployed during their lifetime and many of those are going to have the challenge. If for example, they work in retail, do they hope to find in due course another job in retail or do they seek to acquire new skills and try and find work in other sectors - and if so, what skills and where?

"Banbury was one of the first towns in the UK to have a Job Club after the 2007 financial crash. The Job Club gave advice about benefits as well as signposting people towards employment opportunities," said Sir Tony.

"It also served a useful purpose in making people feel they were not alone. It may be appropriate to start a slightly different Social Distancing Job Club. There is plenty of space in Banbury Town Hall but helping people back into the world of work is going to be a complicated and long-term process."

Sir Tony expressed concern for Banbury town centre whose retail function has suffered in recent years.

"The world of retail is not going to return to where it was before Covid-19. I think the issue is going to be what happens to all the space and buildings in the area one considers to be the Banbury town centre. How do we evolve this area so it does not become some sort of urban wasteland?" he said.

"I have obviously ensured that this will be in no way cutting across anything that Victoria (Prentis MP) will want to do but as I am sure she has a pretty massive Ministerial brief at the present moment, dealing both with UK farming and fisheries policy for Brexit and an immediate Covid-19 brief ensuring security of supply to supermarkets and the work the supermarkets are doing with charities."