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Cllr Izzi Seccombe is the Leader of Warwickshire County Council and the Leader of the Conservative Group on the Local Government Association.
The 24th of February marks the one year anniversary of the seminal global event of the past twelve months – Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Over the past year, we have witnessed the heroic resistance of the Ukraine people and the bravery of their armed forces as a war that was supposed to be over in days has resulted in countless setbacks for the Russian army, humiliation for Putin, and the Ukrainians regaining significant amounts of their territory.
I am proud of the fact that at the very start of the conflict, the four political groups at the Local Government Association (LGA) came together with local leaders from across Europe to endorse a statement which unequivocally condemned the violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, whilst also expressing our full support and solidarity to the Ukrainian people and our peers in Ukrainian local and regional government.
Whilst our government has been busy providing military support to Ukraine – with the UK of course being one of the leading nations in relation to this – and agreeing a wide range of sanctions against Russia, we in local government, building on councils’ proud history of welcoming new arrivals and stepping forward at times of crisis, have been critical to the success of the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme which has seen 112,000 Ukrainian nationals settle in the UK since the conflict began.
Supporting these new arrivals from Ukraine has required a redesign of council services at pace to ensure that the hosting arrangements are safe and supported. It has also involved a collaborative effort from a wide range of council services to ensure that the new arrivals have been able to access the necessary health care, mental health services, English language support, and childcare provision.
To give just one example of good practice from the many that are available from Conservative councils across the country, Braintree District Council has worked with a local community centre to set up a monthly meet-up event as a way of helping displaced Ukrainian families – and hosts another in a welcoming and supportive setting.
Meanwhile, the LGA has worked closely with the government and councils on the logistics of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, including supporting lone children who come to the UK to ensure they are safe. We have also shared developing guidance and good practice with councils: Homes for Ukraine: lessons learned.
Whilst the Homes for Ukraine scheme has been a success overall, it has been clear for a while that as the initial six-month sponsorship programmes have come to an end rising numbers of Ukrainians are presenting themselves to their local councils as homeless.
I therefore strongly welcomed the Government’s announcement last December of a £650 million support package for the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees. This includes the extension of thank you payments to those generous hosts who offer their homes for over a year, support for new sponsors, and additional funding to help councils to welcome new arrivals into their communities and keep them safe.
As the scheme begins its second year, the LGA will continue to work closely with the government to address some of the longer-term challenges around resettlement, including ensuring that new arrivals are fully integrated into their communities and helping them to achieve independence through employment and language support.
A year on from Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine we can be proud of both the UK’s military and humanitarian support to Ukraine and the warm welcome that our councils and local communities throughout the country have extended to those Ukrainians who have fled the conflict.
Above all, as we were so clearly reminded when watching Volodymyr Zelensky’s recent speech to Parliament, we are encouraged and inspired by the fortitude of the Ukrainian people, the heroism and successes of their armed forces, and the fearless leadership of their president.