On the eve of giving evidence to the National Crime Agency regarding modern slavery in Leicester, Andrew Bridgen writes an exclusive column for The Pavlovic Today.
It’s only a week ago that the undercover investigation I persuaded the Sunday Times to conduct into working conditions in Leicester’s sweatshops hit the headlines. It exposed again, the appalling and illegal working conditions of £3-4 per hour pay of garment workers in the City. The City of Leicester had already gained media attention because it had the highest infection rates of the Coronavirus in the UK. The fact was that Leicester had 10% of all newly detected cases of infection in the UK within its mere 300 000 population the week before the Government announced the UK’s first local lockdown to try to suppress the virus and prevent the second round of infection spreading across the whole country.
Representatives of the city council stubbornly maintain that the two issues which propelled Leicester into the media spotlight, namely the COVID 19 outbreak and the existence of illegal sweatshops are not linked. However, I don’t think that their claims survive analysis.
The hotspot of the COVID-19 outbreak in Leicester is in its North-East corner, the Labour-controlled Parliamentary constituency of Leicester East. All of the hundreds of illegally operating factories are also in this part of the city.
We now know that exploited workers on £3-4 per hour have been forced into a position where they have to choose to either work or starve during the lockdown. The internet retailers who make up over 90% of the factories end customers have had a bonanza during the lockdown period as Government policy has forced non-essential retailers to remain closed, effectively removing their traditional “physical competition” and forced anyone who needed or wanted to buy clothes onto the internet. It is also a fact that on poverty wages the housing that these modern slaves could afford would be substandard and very overcrowded.
I have been told by multiple sources that 15 to 20 people are forced to “live” in a traditional terraced house which is usually deemed suitable accommodation for 4 people. Leicester’s captive workforce has had to increase production by 50% throughout the lockdown for their internet retailer masters. They were working even longer hours than normal. Moreover, some were coerced to work while showing symptoms of the COVID-19 as we know, they don’t get sick pay. These factories are without PPE and ventilation or any measures to reduce the transmission of the virus. The workers then, return home to chronically overcrowded accommodation, which is a recipe for the spread of the COVID-19 and that’s how the tragedy in Leicester engulfed the city.
As I wrote last week, the Home Secretary Priti Patel has given a personal commitment to end these appalling working conditions and practices and has tasked the National Crime Agency (NCA) with leading the investigation. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has also committed huge resources from the Department of Health to containing and suppressing the virus flare-up in Leicester.
Unfortunately, although these measures have now prevented the infection rate in the city increasing, it is clear that the overall level of new COVID-19 infections remains at worrying levels.
I am hearing reports that the Labour city Mayor and the Labour city council are being at best ”unhelpful “with both the Department of Health in dealing with the virus and the Home Office in sorting out the sweatshops.
Given all the above, if we want to avoid further extensions to the local lockdown in Leicester, I feel that the Government has no choice but to take direct control of the city of Leicester and its affairs in the short term. This would involve the temporary suspension of the powers of Mayor Soulsby and the city council and their powers being transferred to a Commissioner appointed by the Central Government until the situation is brought under control. I am lobbying Central Government to do just this.
From what we are seeing now with exploited workers giving anonymized interviews, living conditions for many in Leicester East seem to more resemble the old Wild West.
If you want to see the most unequal community in the UK, take a look at the City of Leicester which is completely politically controlled by the Labour Party.
The City of Leicester has three Labour MPs, a Labour Mayor, 52 Labour Councillors out of 54 on the city council, and a clueless Labour Police and Crime Commissioner. All this in a city which has wealth and affluence sufficient to support a thriving Lamborghini dealership, while at the same time being the overcrowded home to 10 000 people living in a desperate state of modern slavery and exploitation.
I regard this as a nightmare vision of the potential future of our country and I will do everything I can to highlight it and bring it to an end.
To her credit, the newly elected, Labour MP for Leicester East, Claudia Webbe, has gone on the record today stating that she is contacted regularly by people claiming they are paid as little as £2 per hour for working in the factories in her constituency. She was elected for the first time to represent Leicester East on the 12th of December 2019, barely 8 months ago.
It should be noted that her predecessor was the “Rt Hon” Keith Vaz, who held the seat for 33 years from June 1987. Vaz decided to stand down from Parliament after the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards ruled that he should be suspended from the House for six months ( the longest suspension ever) after a three-year investigation of complaints that I brought against him.
Justice sometimes moves slowly but I am confident it will move to its conclusion. There is much more to come out regarding the situation in Leicester, in particular, who has allowed this appalling situation to establish itself and flourish in one of our great cities.
I am giving my evidence to the National Crime Agency tomorrow.