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A New Life for Cromwell High School

29 March 2017

Last April I, along with most other people in Tameside, stood horrified as we witnessed the destruction wrought upon Cromwell High School in Dukinfield. The arson attack, carried out by three teenagers who were thankfully arrested and punished for their actions, caused extensive structural damage and completely destroyed two classrooms.

Since that time, the pupils and staff at the school have been in temporary accommodation at the Inspire Academy in Ashton, but they won’t be there for much longer. I’m delighted to announce that the work to rebuild Cromwell High School is now underway, with plans for the entire school to be reopened in time for the new academic year in September.  

We could have chosen to rebuild the school to the specification it had before, but working with local firm Jamieson Contracting we’ve decided to be a lot more ambitious than that.  Approximately a third of the school is due to be rebuilt through a combination of internal repairs, refurbishment and the construction of a new internal layout and covered walkway.

I’m sure that most will agree with me when I say that this is fantastic news for Cromwell High School, which continues to provide a great education for the children in attendance despite these most challenging of circumstances. They will be able to make a fresh and positive start next year, and I pledge the council will give them all the support it is within our power to give to make sure that their transition back is as smooth as possible.

While we all would have preferred if it had never happened in the first place, the story that has unfolded since the fire began on that terrible day in April proves beyond a shadow of a doubt the resilience of Tameside and its residents.

It also shows our continuing commitment to making Tameside’s schools the best possible places for pupils and teachers to excel and achieve. I’ve spoken many times about our £250 million investment in our school buildings and the great work done by the A+ Trust. Together, these have led to a sustained improvement in our GCSE results, taking us from below the national average to the 3rd highest achieving borough in Greater Manchester in the space of three years. It’s got to the point now where the Manchester Evening News has highlighted our outstanding primary and secondary schools as a reason why families from outside the borough are choosing to move to Tameside.

The true test of commitment, however, does not come when everything is going smoothly. It comes when things go wrong and an extraordinary effort is required to set them right again. Tameside Council stands by its commitments, and the proof of that will be seen when the doors of Cromwell High School open again in September.

So I celebrate the rebuilding of Cromwell High School and our continuing investment in Tameside schools. At a time when education policy seems to be driven by half-baked ideology and unwarranted nostalgia, we’re showing how to help schools manage themselves effectively and improve results in a way that works for all.  
 

Tags: "A+ Trust", "Cromwell High School", Dukinfied, Education, GCSEs, Investment, "Manchester Evening News", "Proud Tameside", Rebuild, Resilience
Posted by: Executive Leader


Register to Vote and Be Counted on 4th May

24 March 2017

Here’s a list of things you can do in less than 3 minutes on the internet; update your Facebook status, read a few tweets, watch a short video on YouTube. Or, if you’re 18 or over, living in Greater Manchester and a British, European Union or Commonwealth citizen, you could instead register to vote in the Greater Manchester Mayoral Election.

On Thursday 4th May 2017, the people will go to polls to elect the first ever Mayor for Greater Manchester. Whoever wins will have the powers, in cooperation with the Leaders of all the Greater Manchester councils, to make a real difference to the region and the lives of the people who live and work in it. I’ve repeatedly talked about the importance of investing in infrastructure, and the new Mayor of Greater Manchester will play a vital role in making decisions about housing, transport and planning. That includes things like the £300 million Greater Manchester Housing Investment Fund, regulated bus services and smart ticketing for all forms of public transport.

The Mayor will also take on responsibility for a number of functions that already exist within Greater Manchester. The role of the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner, and with it the powers to set the budget and priorities of Greater Manchester Police, will be taken over by the Mayor entirely. The Mayor will also work with a Fire Committee to oversee the functions of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service. For those with concerns that the voice of Tameside will be marginalised or disadvantaged, have no fear. While the Mayor will have the ability to make some decisions independently, most decisions (especially ones which will have a significant impact Greater Manchester as a whole) will require consultation and approval from all the other leaders of the Greater Manchester councils.

Put simply; the new Mayor will make sure that decisions that affect Greater Manchester are made in Greater Manchester. For years, the North of England has been left behind by the raw economic power of London and the South East, and political devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Starting in May, we will redress that imbalance to attract business and investment, improve our resident’s quality of life and make sure that we get a say in the big conversations about the future.

It’s an exciting time, and if you want to be a part of it all you have to do is register to vote before the deadline on April 13th. The process could not be easier, just visit the register to vote website here with your National Insurance Number and your date of birth. Once you’ve put in the necessary information we’ll contact you to either confirm your place on the register or ask for further information.  If you’ve registered to vote in the past (For example, for last year’s local elections or the EU Referendum) then you don’t need to register again unless you change your name or address. There are more benefits to registering than being able to vote as well. Many credit checking companies look kindly on people being on the electoral register, making it easier to get access to loans, insurance and other financial services.

So take 3 minutes out of your day and register to vote for the Greater Manchester Mayoral election. Together, we will make the voice of Tameside heard in Greater Manchester, in Westminster and throughout the world.
 

Tags: Community, Democracy, Election, GM, "GM Mayor", "Greater Manchester", Mayor, "Proud Tameside", "Register to Vote", Voting
Posted by: Executive Leader


Tameside Success in GM School Games

22 March 2017
Cast your minds back to the summer of last year when British athletes stunned the world in Rio de Janeiro by bringing home 67 medals. I argued at the time, and I stand by it now, that we didn’t get from the dark days of getting beaten in the medal tables by Kazakhstan in 1996 to winning more gold medals than China in 2016 by accident. It took massive investment, leadership and commitment to make it happen.

Be that as it may, it is only part of the story. The vast majority of people are not going to be Olympic-level athletes, nor do they particularly want to be. A country might bring home medal after medal every four years, but if the rest of the population are unhealthy and inactive then what exactly have you achieved? Sport should be for everybody, and the earlier you can get people involved in it the better chances there are of it becoming a big part of their lives. That’s why yesterday’s Greater Manchester School Games are an event worth paying attention to.

Held twice a year every year, the Greater Manchester School Games give young people across the region the chance to compete in 27 competitions over 15 different sports in some of Manchester’s most iconic sports venues. Every team and young person that took part in the School Games has got there by qualifying through competitions at the borough level. Together, they form the best of the best that Greater Manchester can offer when it comes to school-level competitive sport.

It goes without saying that Tameside was well-represented, as 20 schools from across the borough contributed pupils to a range of different sports. In particular, there were some great results from Hollingworth School (Gold in Basketball), Samuel Laycock School (Silver in Rugby Union, 4th in Boccia and 3rd in Swimming), St Thomas More (Bronze in Netball and 5th in Handball), Fairfield High School (Silver in both Year 7/8 and Year 9/10 Girls Volleyball), Audenshaw/St Damians (4th in Swimming), Droylsden Academy (4th in Year 7/8 Boys Volleyball), Russell Scott Primary School (5th in Indoor Athletics) and Hyde Community College (Gold in Year 9/10 Boys Volleyball). There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they and everybody else who took part has done Tameside proud.

Outside of the Greater Manchester School Games we work closely with schools and organisations like the Tameside School Sports Partnership to make sure that every young people experiences sport and competition throughout the course of their education. Maybe some of them will go further in their chosen sport, representing their clubs and even their country in the future. Or maybe they’ll follow other roads in the future but continue taking part in sport socially. Either way, I intend to make sure that Tameside has the infrastructure and resources they need in place for them to do so. Our £20 million investment in leisure facilities is bearing fruit with the opening of Total Adrenaline and the iTrain 24/7 gym, and clubs and facilities for just about every sport can be found throughout the borough.

So I celebrate all those who took part in the Greater Manchester School Games, not just for their achievements on the day but also because they have made the decision to let sport into their lives. Just like how we transformed Britain’s Olympic success, let’s resolve to put in the investment, commitment and leadership needed to give every young person the chance to take part and succeed in sport; whatever that means for them. I see no reason why we can’t make it happen.
 

Tags: "Active Tameside", Athletics, "Get Active", "Greater Manchester", Olympics, "Proud Tameside", School, "Schools Games", Sport, "Young People"
Posted by: Executive Leader


Mad Science This Week in Tameside

17 March 2017


What do a medieval alchemist, a top-class Formula One engineer and a Victorian clockmaker all have in common? They are all part of Tameside’s scientific and engineering heritage, a heritage that we’re celebrating from 10-19th March as part of British Science Week 2017.

An annual celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths, British Science Week features a range of fascinating, entertaining and engaging national, regional and local events across the UK. Tameside is no different. On Sunday 19th March between 11am-3pm, we’re sending the week off in style as Portland Basin Museum in Ashton plays host to three mad scientists, who will be inviting all and sundry to get involved in all sorts of exciting experiments at their fun stations.

The theme of mad scientists is particularly appropriate for Tameside. A lot of people assume that Tameside’s long and proud history of engineering and science begins in the Industrial Revolution, but they’re off by more than a few centuries. In the 1400s, one Sir Thomas de Assheton received a special order from King Henry VI to pursue his experiments in alchemy, the art of turning base metals into gold. It might sound strange to us, but enough people thought this possible at the time for the King’s order to forbid any person from interfering with de Assheton’s work. The details of his experiments are unknown, but it appears that he did not succeed (Ironically enough, we now know that it is technically possible to turn lead into gold, although the energy required far outweighs any possible benefit).

Almost 500 years later, a Tameside clockmaker, Albert E. Richardson designed the first practical Teasmade, a machine for making tea or coffee automatically. Richardson’s design was based on an alarm clock, a spirit lamp and a dipping kettle. He sold the design to a Birmingham gunsmith, Franke Clark, who patented it in 1902. Considered to be nothing more than a curiosity at the time, the advent of mass production made electric versions of Teasmades a common sight in British homes in the 60s and 70s. Back in the 21st century, Ross Brawn, the motorsport engineer, technical director and owner of multiple championship winning Formula 1 teams, was born and spent the majority of his childhood in Ashton-under-Lyne. He credits visiting Belle Vue Stadium to watch various forms of motorsport with kindling his interest in motor engineering from a young age.

That’s a legacy that Tameside Council wants to add to. Over the past few months we have put on a variety of events to encourage people to get involved in science and engineering. We’ve worked with MadLab to put on a series of “Make Stuff” days – a series of free coding, making and tech events. Our two Tameside Hack competitions – one held last summer, the other last month – encouraged young people to team up and take on a series of digital challenges, having fun and developing their skills and creativity in the process. For some this kind of science and engineering will remain a hobby or a pastime. For others who want to try and make a job or a career out of such skills the new facilities that are going up as part of the Vision Tameside project will allow them to do so with cutting edge facilities and resources.

From making trinkets and gadgets to pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and achievement, Tameside has done it all. So as we celebrate British Science Week, let us remember both that proud history and the glowing possibilities for our future.
 

Tags: "British Science Week", Engineering, History, Investment, MadLab, "Portland Basin", "Proud Tameside", Science, Technology, "Vision Tameside"
Posted by: Executive Leader


Clarity Needed After £2 Billion Budget U-Turn

15 March 2017

In my blog about the Budget last week you might have noticed that I missed out one important issue; the rise in National Insurance Contributions announced by the Chancellor. The reason was simple; I wanted some time to look at the details and confirm whether it was as bad as it sounded. However, since then the Chancellor has announced that, facing opposition from his MPs and the media, he would be dropping the planned rise entirely from the Budget.

 

Let’s get the obvious point out of the way first. Whatever way you slice it, the rise was a clear breach of the Conservative Manifesto before the last election, which stated (and I quote) “We will not raise VAT, National Insurance Contributions or Income Tax”. No matter what has happened since 2015, the fact remains that manifesto commitments are pledges, in black and white, from politicians to the people. They should not be discarded without a very, very good reason. For that reason alone, the Chancellor’s U-turn should be welcomed.

The Chancellor doesn’t get away that easily though, “welcoming” a U-turn is not the same as letting him off the hook. Regardless of what I think about the planned rise (and even ignoring the government breaking their own manifesto commitments, I think it was a mistake) I can’t ignore the fact that it was going to raise £2 billion in desperately-needed funding for schools and social care. Now that the self-proclaimed “party of economic competence” have blasted a massive hole in their own Budget a week after they announced it, we deserve to know whether that extra funding will still be forthcoming or if our vital services will have to struggle on without.

But there are deeper problems too. When people think of “self-employed” they often think of a plumber, a joiner or some other kinds of tradesman. They’re still there, but there are now many more self-employed people (including 14,000 in Tameside) and they’re paid a lot less than they used to be as well. Many of these new entrants into the ranks of the self-employed are not there by choice, but have been pushed into it by unscrupulous companies who use bogus self-employment as a means to duck their responsibilities to their workers and the taxman. The Chancellor claimed that his now-abandoned increases were made in the name of fairness. I disagree. Fairness would be coming down like a tonne of bricks on companies like Uber, Deliveroo and others who deny their workers basic rights like sick pay, the minimum wage and job security. Yet on this, the Budget and the Chancellor continue to remain totally silent.

And what of those who are indeed genuinely self-employed? The government estimated that the proposed National Insurance Contributions increase would have cost the average self-employed person around 60p a week. “Just about managing” (to borrow the government’s old phrase) families won’t have to worry about how that will impact their finances any more, but it’s not the only financial bombshell that they’re facing. The £3 billion cut in Universal Credit, announced by George Osborne in his last Budget, has not been dropped by the current Chancellor. The impact of this massive cut could cost self-employed working families a substantial chunk of their income by 2020. We haven’t even covered cost of living increases, inflation and goodness knows what else. On average, self-employed people earn 15% less in real terms than their counterparts did 20 years ago. We should be thinking about how we can support them to earn more and get on, not trying to balance the books on their already creaking shoulders.

In this Budget the Chancellor had a choice. He could have chosen to make fundamental reforms to the way we handle taxation and self-employment, curbing abuses and making it fit for the 21st century. On the other hand, he could have chosen instead to tinker around the edges to extract more money from a broken system. He chose the latter and ended up achieving neither. That should tell you everything you need to know about where his and the government’s priorities lie.


Tags: "Adult Social Care", Budget, Economy, Investment, "National Insurance", Parliament, Schools, U-Turn
Posted by: Executive Leader


The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

10 March 2017
Budget

George Osborne may have left the Treasury, but Osbornomics is still alive and well.

Any budgetary decisions, be it a person spending their weekly pay packet or a government handling billions of pounds, are about deciding what your priorities are. The decisions made about what will be spent and where will tell you everything you need to know about where a person’s, or a government’s, priorities lie. On that basis, despite some small positive steps, there are definitely reasons to be concerned about this week’s Budget.

I want to get one thing straight to start off with. Despite what you might have heard from the Prime Minister and others, ideological austerity is still the order of the day. Cuts to disability payments, child tax credits and housing benefit announced previously remain in place, and government departments (including local government) face a further cut of 6% by the end of this Parliament. At the same time, the government is ploughing ahead with corporation and inheritance tax cuts that will hand billions over to some of the richest individuals and multi-nationals in the country. The government has chosen to keep taking from the young, the poor and the vulnerable, and has chosen to keep giving to the rich, the powerful and the well-connected.

Let’s look at what new measures the Budget has announced as well. School funding is something that I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog, and the government has indeed provided £180 million for the 24,372 schools in England. That figure is dwarfed by the £320 million they’ve promised to 140 free schools, a total funding package of £3.2 million per free school compared to £7,385 per school for everybody else. Make no mistake as well, when we say free schools we really mean the Prime Minister’s vanity project, grammar schools. Grammar schools which will deny a quality education and freedom of choice to the vast majority of children, especially those from deprived backgrounds. Once again, the numbers show you where the government’s priorities lie better than I ever could.

All through the Budget the same sorry story repeats itself. Riches are lavished on a few ideological pet projects while everything and everybody else is neglected entirely. Social care funding, another topic I’ve covered here, illustrates this perfectly. £2 billion over three years in additional funding might sound like a lot, but the government’s own figures show that it will give Tameside an extra £10.3 million by 2020, a fraction of what is needed to plug our £70 million social care gap. A gap that was caused, I should add, by the government imposing £4.6 billion worth of cuts nationally despite increasing demand for social care services. The government has announced a Green Paper on social care funding later in the year, but given the fact that their last “solution” ended up costing local taxpayers up and down the country money I remain sceptical as to what will come out of it. This is a can that cannot be kicked any further down the road.

What’s the point I’m trying to make here? This Budget proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the government’s priorities are not the priorities of Tameside. If we took the £5 billion a year the government is spending on corporation tax cuts, the billion they’re spending on inheritance tax cuts and the hundreds of millions they’re spending on free schools we could make a real difference to the lives of those who need it the most without spending a penny more. This country grows quicker when it’s fairer. As we look back on this Budget, and on a lost decade of stagnated wages, decimated public services and mounting inequality, we should ask ourselves, “What is the better way?”

Tags: "Adult Social Care", Austerity, Budget, "Budget 2017", Investment, "Local Government", Schools, Westminster
Posted by: Executive Leader


iTrain Opens Its Doors

09 March 2017

iTrain Opens Its Doors

Time flies sometimes. It seems like only yesterday when I announced that Tameside Council and Active Tameside were investing £20 million in revolutionising the way we offered leisure services in the borough. This investment began to bear fruit at the end of last year with Longdendale’s state of the art Total Adrenaline trampoline and soft play centre. Now, less than six months later, we celebrate the addition of the iTrain facility in Dukinfield to Tameside’s range of 21st century facilities.

While it may occupy the same building as the former Active Dukinfield swimming pool, the interior of iTrain is almost unrecognisable from what came before. In addition to the facilities’ centrepiece gym, iTrain also includes a health food café, a coffee bar, members lounge with free Wi-Fi, community meeting space and family-friendly crèche facilities. Instead of completely filling in the old swimming pool, we took advantage of the space and constructed a raised running track around the ground floor gym area. For those who are sick of the treadmill, this track is easier on the joints and better simulates running outdoors for those training for a competitive race. The gym itself contains 3 exercise studios and 150 pieces of equipment spread over two floors. Whether you enjoy cardio, or strength training, or aerobics or anything in between, iTrain will have the facilities you need available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

With all that in mind, we wanted to make sure that iTrain got the opening it deserved. That’s why we invited a very special guest, Wigan-born European and World medallist Jenny Meadows. As well as adding a touch of star power to proceedings she also led the first “iRun” training session around the running track with a group of willing participants.

We’ve achieved this transformation in less than six months at the cost of £2.3 million, a remarkable achievement by any standards. It’s already beginning to pay off its investment as well. While the official opening was last week, the iTrain facility has been open since January and has already attracted more than 1,300 new members, bringing Active Tameside’s total membership past the milestone of 10,000.

Obviously that’s more money going into further investment and maintaining what we already have, but it also means that more people in Tameside are having fun and taking part in physical activity. I can’t overemphasise how important that is. All the evidence suggests that being active can significantly reduce the risk of developing a range of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even cancer. That reduces the demand on our health and social care services in the long term and enables more local people to live longer and healthier lives.

Despite the challenging financial conditions imposed on us by the government, we’re showing that it’s still possible to invest in Tameside and its services and people. As we celebrate the opening of iTrain, we should take confidence from what we’ve achieved to date and resolve to see it through to its conclusion.


Tags: "Active Tameside", Dukinfield, Health, Investment, iTrain, Leisure, "Proud Tameside", Tameside
Posted by: Executive Leader


Helping Hands for Adult Learners

06 March 2017

If you were to conduct a straw poll of residents as to what services they know that the Council provides, what would the answers be likely to be? I’d expect sweeping the streets, emptying the bins and fixing potholes to be amongst the most popular answers, purely by virtue of these being the services that the majority of people access and see directly. One thing that is likely not to feature as highly, though is arguably just as important a service, is our Adult and Community Learning provision.

The Adult and Community Education service (ACE) offers a range of courses for local residents over the age of 19, including those with learning difficulties. Amongst the range of learning programmes that the service provides are computer courses, employability courses and ‘skills for life’ courses which can enable people to gain the skills and qualifications to more easily secure sustainable employment. The service also offers innovative ‘Family Learning’ which helps parents, grandparents and carers to have knowledge to support their children and grandchildren with their homework or to read with them after school.

It’s difficult to quantify the benefits of offering such a service in financial terms. Providing the tools that can remove the barriers to employment and improve health and wellbeing, or that lead to fewer children fall behind at school immeasurably benefits the community and, in the long term, local taxpayers too. A skilled up, confident Tameside makes for a more prosperous Tameside.

Whilst it is indeed difficult to measure the benefits to the Tameside Borough as a whole, within those benefits are the individual stories of people for whom a tangible difference has been made to their lives. These are key to illustrating that providing this service is the right thing to do. Two such examples are those of Stephen and Edward.

Stephen is an English student at Tameside ACE. He started the course to improve his reading skills after admitting to not having picked up a book in more than 30 years.  He has been guided by his tutor Alison and has made significant progress since he began. He has told the story of his pride at walking in to Ashton Library recently, picking up a book and being able to understand it.

Edward is an enterprise student with the service. He has successfully started volunteering as a gardener at a park in Ashton and has been involved in the tree planting that has been taking place across the Borough in recent months.

These two stories cannot overstate the value of Adult learning. Things that people may take for granted, such as the ability to read or the confidence to join a community group and volunteer, are difficult things to try and learn on your own later in life. They are simple skills that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to describe as life changing.

Whilst budgets at the Council become ever tighter and the pressure to cut ‘less well known’ services like this to protect those which are more visible becomes greater, I will always defend those such as this which add huge value to our towns.

More details of the Adult and Community Education service and the courses on offer can be found here.


Tags: "Adult Learning", Ashton-under-Lyne, Community, Education, Learning, Libraries, "Proud Tameside", Tameside
Posted by: Executive Leader


Full Steam Ahead on the Tameside Interchange

03 March 2017
Full Steam Ahead on the Tameside Interchange

One of the things that I bring up regularly in these blogs is the need for investment in infrastructure, and I make absolutely no apologies for doing so. Infrastructure is the backbone of our society, underpinning not only our economic activity but everyday life in general. Residents and businesses feel the benefits of reliable and affordable utilities and high quality roads and railways in their wallets and in their quality of life.

Which makes it all the more scandalous that the government has let Britain’s infrastructure, especially in the North, crumble into rack and ruin from neglect and underinvestment. A recent report on Global Competitiveness judged Britain’s roads to be of a similar quality to Namibia and Puerto Rico, and our own National Infrastructure Commission said at the end of last year that Romania and Peru have better 4G mobile internet coverage. After almost a decade of economic stagnation thanks to the banks and austerity, we can and must do better.

This is something that councils are well positioned to lead the charge on. We know our boroughs and we know what needs to be done to improve their infrastructure. That’s why I’m glad that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority gave the thumbs up last week to go full steam ahead with our plans for the new Tameside Interchange.

I can’t emphasise how good this news is for Tameside. The Interchange will turbo-charge our infrastructure plans by providing the borough with a one-stop shop for buses and trams, as well as easy access to the nearby town centre and train station. A fully accessible and covered passenger concourse with seated waiting areas, information screens, accessible toilets with baby changing facilities and cycle parking are just some of the other conveniences that will be on offer. Whether you’re coming into Tameside, going out to Manchester or travelling anywhere in between, the new Interchange will allow you to do so in safety and comfort.

But the Interchange by itself is just a shiny new building. It needs to be part of a bigger picture if we want to achieve what we need to for Tameside’s economy and infrastructure. By making it easier for people to get around for work, education or leisure the Interchange will feed into our Vision Tameside project, which will regenerate our principal town centre, give our young people a solid grounding in cutting edge technologies and contribute £300 million in growth to the borough as a whole.

As always, we’ve also taken efforts to make sure that we bring the people of Tameside along with us on this journey. The first consultation on the Interchange, conducted by Transport for Greater Manchester, took place between August and September 2015. Since then we’ve gone through the formal planning process here in Tameside and kept residents, businesses and partners informed about its progress. As the steel and glass goes up over the next few months, we’ll make sure that we continue to keep you in the loop every step of the way.

The government can talk all it wants about increased GDP and revenue improvements, but we know that a true economic recovery only happens when the person on the street can see and feel it for themselves. I believe local government and infrastructure investment are vital if we want to make that happen. I welcome the GMCA’s decision to back Tameside, and I look forward to seeing our plans become a reality.

Tags: Ashton-under-Lyne, Buses, "Greater Manchester", Infrastructure, Investment, Metrolink, "Tameside Interchange", Trains, Transport
Posted by: Executive Leader


Unanimous Tameside Budget Sends a Strong Message

02 March 2017

Unanimous Tameside Budget Sends a Strong Message

At Tuesday’s meeting of Full Council we agreed the Council’s budget for the next financial year. Once again we have done so in the face of colossal pressure due to government cuts and rising demand. We now predict that by 2020 we will have £200 million less to spend on vital services for Tameside than we did in 2010. That’s £2,000 less for every single household in Tameside. Nowhere is this pressure more severe than in adult social care. In Tameside and Glossop, the funding gap for these services alone is estimated to hit £70 million by 2020.

Unfortunately, just because we’re all in the same boat doesn’t mean we’ve all been given the same options to deal with it. That was made abundantly clear when we found out about the government’s backroom dealing with Surrey County Council after they announced a referendum on a 15% council tax rise to cover funding cuts to social care. If nothing else, a referendum would have laid bare the hypocrisy and intellectual bankruptcy of the government’s “solutions” to the social care crisis to date. When the social care nightmare started becoming reality last year, the government announced that local authorities would be allowed to raise their council tax bills by an additional 2% as a social care “precept”.

We told them then that shifting the burden onto local authorities to cover social care costs wouldn’t raise a fraction of the money needed. We told them then that it would entrench vulnerability and inequality by guaranteeing that the areas with the highest need would be able to raise the lowest amounts. It raised two and a half times more money in the 10 least deprived council areas as it did in the 10 most deprived. We know this, and the government knows it too. This makes their response all the more unbelievable. No new money, no radical action and no sympathy for the mess they’ve created. Just another 1% this year on top of the existing social care precept, reheating a policy that everybody knew the first time was not just a failure, but an unfair failure.

In that light, it’s not hard to see why the government wouldn’t want Surrey Council to go forward with their referendum. Surrey contains the Parliamentary seats of many MPs who have been driving the austerity ideology from Day One. People like Jeremy Hunt, Chris Grayling and Philip Hammond would no doubt have to face some awkward questions for the damage that they knowingly inflicted upon services their constituents depend on. And you know what the really scary thing is? Surrey Council is probably one of the richest local authorities in the country. If they’re struggling this much then what’s going to happen to places like Tameside? Councils that face worse cuts than Surrey could ever imagine and who don’t have the option of running to their mates in Whitehall for help?

Just as the government wants it to be, we are left with no real options. That’s why our budget for next year includes a 4.99% increase in council tax, incorporating a 1.99% increase in general council tax and the full 3% social care precept. We are by no means alone in making this hard decision, 97% of other local authorities have done so as well with three quarters of those taking the full 4.99% maximum. Significantly, despite the council tax and social care precept increases, this is the first budget in Tameside that I can remember being passed unanimously. Labour and Conservative, North and South, urban and rural; all of us are sending a message to the government that local authority and social care funding isn’t a disaster waiting to happen, it’s a disaster that’s already happening.

This cannot go on. Our local residents should no longer be made to pick up the bills for a national crisis, a national crisis aided and abetted by the ideological austerity and wilful blindness of Westminster. After years of sleeping at the wheel the truth is finally coming out in the wash, and the government would rather bury it than own up to it.  If they can afford to bail out Surrey then they can afford to offer the same deal to every local authority. Anything less is admitting that they care more about avoiding embarrassment than they do about looking after those who need it the most in our country.


Tags: Austerity, Budget, "Council Tax", "Full Council", Investment, "Local Government", "Social Care", Surrey, Tameside
Posted by: Executive Leader