Readers make voices heard in first YEP debate

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They came from across Leeds to put their questions to some of the city’s most influential people.

Community safety, transport and poverty were just some of the subjects to provide a talking point for readers in the first ever Voice of Leeds debate.

Panel members at the Yorkshire Evening Post's Voice of Leeds debate

Panel members at the Yorkshire Evening Post's Voice of Leeds debate

The meeting came following an unprecedented survey by the Yorkshire Evening Post to help create a snapshot of life in the city.

Nearly 2,000 people responded to this newspaper’s Voice of Leeds survey to help highlight issues affecting their everyday lives.

And tonight a panel of five influential speakers from Leeds joined forces to take questions directly from readers about issues that matter to them.

During the meeting West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson stressed concerns about the visibility of policing in two years time.

He warned that West Yorkshire Police is set to lose almost 40 per cent of its budget in coming years.

He said: “We’ve lost roughly 1,000 police officers and more than 1,000 police staff and we are having to target our resources as effectively as possible

“We’re in the process of recruiting up to 1,500 specials by next year.

“But whoever is elected next year in the General Election has fundamental decisions to make about community safety.”

He also said he was “surprised” by the results of the YEP’s Voice of Leeds Survey which revealed nearly 80 per cent of respondents actively avoid certain parts of the city for fear of being a victim of crime.

Councillor Mark Dobson, who is the executive member for cleaner, stronger and safer communities, addressed a variety of questions including concerns over the cleanliness of the city centre.

He said over the last 12 months around 5,000 people have been fined for littering in the city centre.

Sally-Anne Greenfield from Leeds Community Foundation and former MP John Battle discussed how the city could work together in a bid to tackle debt and loan sharks.

The YEP’s survey revealed that nearly half of respondents had considered using a foodbank.

And hundreds of readers have been forced to turn to a payday lender in the last year just to make ends meet.

Sally-Anne Greenfield said the city needs to come up with different solutions to tackle debt and poverty.

But she warned the charity sector is facing huge pressure in terms of Government cuts.

Debt campaigner John Battle praised the work of the city’s network of debt forums and he said that Leeds is one of the best cities for campaigning on the issue.

But he warned that more work still needs to be done to signpost people who are struggling to Credit Unions for support in Leeds.

He said: “Reaching out to people in debt is a massive issue and the debt forums have really helped.

“People are getting the confidence to come forward.”

There was also a lively debate about the trolleybus proposals for Leeds.

It comes following a 72-day public inquiry to determine the fate of Leeds’s £250m trolleybus scheme.

Councillor James Lewis, chair of the transport committee for West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said: “The case for New Generation Transport is compelling.

“How do you try and move people around the city more effectively? How do we encourage people to use park and ride?

“How do we use roads and railways better?”

John Battle added: “Leeds is a radial city and split into bits.

“We’re living in urban villages that never mix.

“We need to bring our city together.

“We need to bring communities together.

“I think we should have a proper discussion on transport that brings the whole city together.”

Following the debate YEP editor Jeremy Clifford added: “It was a great evening in terms of seeing how passionately people care about the major issues in the city.

“It was the first debate that we have ever held at the Yorkshire Evening Post as part of the Voice of Leeds.

“Given the quality and questioning of the debate we will be doing this again.”

The YEP has teamed up with Leeds Community Foundation to host a series of ten summits next year.

The discussions will look in depth at some of the major issues affecting residents in Leeds.

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