Executive Leader Cllr Kieran Quinn

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Councillor Kieran Quinn, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for April 2017

Banks and our high street

Friday, 21 April 2017

As election fever begins to grip the country it is even more important that bread-and-butter issues keep receiving the attention they deserve. One way or another, when the dust settles after the 8th June we still need to keep looking for ways to grow, improve and invest in Tameside, its towns and its residents.

One of the key things we need to do to achieve this is keep a close eye on the vibrancy of our high streets. For the first time ever it looks like this is going to be a major election issue as well. The reason for that is simple; our high streets have changed, and continue to change, radically since the days when they were home to the ‘butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker’ immortalised in nursery rhyme ‘Rub-a-Dub-Dub’.

Today most are still home to a sandwich shop and newsagents’, though the proliferation of the car and home freezers has meant that, rather than visiting a number of independent shops for their groceries, people choose a more convenient weekly trip to the supermarket. However, in addition to the paper shop and butty bar, another business that has survived in most towns is the local branch of a high street bank.

Banking is an essential service which is accessed almost universally. Whilst technology has meant that a majority of transactions are now conducted electronically and we are constantly told of the impending arrival of a ‘cashless society’ there is still demand for the ability to bank in person. The abandonment of plans to phase out cheques by 2018 is one illustration of how customers still want access to more traditional banking methods.

This is why I’m fiercely opposing the recently announced plans for the closure of the branches of Lloyds and NatWest in Droylsden and the closure of NatWest in Denton in autumn of this year.  These proposals follow the loss of HSBC in Hyde. Whilst the caricature is that in branch banking is a service that is now only accessed by the elderly why is it that online only banks such as First Direct and Smile feel the need to have an agreement with other institutions so that their customers can access branch based services? For many a branch is also the only place to withdraw an amount of money above the £200 limit some banks impose on transactions at a cash machine.

We must not forget either that the argument against closures is not about the loss of services alone. The presence of banks supports the continued vibrancy of local high streets and district centres. They are used by local businesses but also act as a draw bringing people in to the town that, once they have conducted their banking, often go on to spend their money in other local shops. I’ve witnessed this, and even do this myself in Droylsden. Arguably, as banks are businesses that make significant amounts of money, they can spare some cash to retain branches and support local communities?

Over the coming weeks and months I’ll be working hard to build opposition against these closures and campaigning hard to see the plans abandoned. I’ll also be setting up meetings with both Lloyds and Natwest to see what more can be done in both sides to avert or mitigate these closures. Contact with both companies has been made and I will keep you updated on any further progress in the weeks and months ahead. 

I know can count on your support as we work to protect Tameside’s local communities.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


A New Deal for State Schools

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Education is a topic that appears frequently on this blog, a fact that I make no apologies for. Caught between the rock of eye-watering funding cuts (£11.5 million by 2019 in Tameside alone) and the hard place of government ideologues out to dismantle our comprehensives, the English education system is under threat as never before. How refreshing it is to see Ashton’s own MP, Angela Rayner, defending the ideal that education should provide everybody, regardless of birth or circumstances, with the best possible start in life.

The policy, announced at the end of last week, is simple. It’s not a widely known fact that private school fees are exempt from VAT. It’s estimated that ending this tax loophole will unlock up to £1.5 billion at extra funding for schools, at least part of which is set to be reinvested to provide free school meals to all primary school children, regardless of their families’ income.

I’ve taken some time to reflect on the content of the policy, and let me be clear. I am totally in favour. So is Michael Gove, a man who up until now I agreed with on very little when it came to education. I can think of no circumstances that can justify wealthy parents (and if you can afford to send your child to a private school, without a scholarship or suchlike, then you are a wealthy parent) buying a further advantage for their children at a 20% discount. A discount, by the way, that is paid for by the taxpayer, many of whom could not even dream of sending their children to a private school. What’s more, here’s a list of some other things that are exempt from VAT; food, water, prescription medicines and clothes. Can anybody seriously argue that access to a private education is as important as those vital necessities?

I’m not suggesting that ending the VAT giveaway for private schools will redress this imbalance overnight, but it’s definitely a start. Extending free school meals to all primary school children as part of the proceeds will also have a powerful effect, both symbolically and practically. Studies conducted over the years in Britain and abroad have shown that providing children with free, high-quality school meals is an investment in their health, well-being and learning. Their results improve, their diets improve and their families’ financial situation improves. While everybody benefits, it is children from less well-off backgrounds that see the most dramatic improvements. Giving every child a free school meal will also remove the stigma that a minority of children unfortunately say that they sometimes feel from receiving one as a result of the current policy.

Beyond the provision of free school meals, a wider question has to be asked. Every day we seem to hear another piece of news about the crisis in school funding, from head teachers writing to parents asking them for contributions to pay for basic necessities to warnings from the National Audit Office that state schools will need to find an extra £3 billion in savings by 2020 just to break even. Why is it that the private sector continues to receive such generous tax breaks even though it forms a tiny minority (around 7%) of the total education sector? Obviously parents sending their children to state schools don’t have to pay fees, but couldn’t we use the tax system to increase general school budgets, or (if you want more targeted spending) fund subsidies for school trips or after-school clubs in the state sector? Let’s find ways to help the vast majority of the population, instead of continuing to throw money at divisive, ideologically-driven grammar schools or private schools for the privileged few.

We face in this country both a crisis in school funding and a crisis in social mobility. Ending the private school VAT giveaway, unpalatable as it may be for some, addresses both. Anybody against it needs to explain how they would choose to address those same two crises. As the country prepares to go to the polls in June, I will continue to support ideas like this, bold and effective ones that offer people something different. Let’s have more of the same.  
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Don't Miss Out On Tameside's Easter Celebrations

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I want to use this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Easter.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s wondering where the time has gone. It feels like only yesterday when we were putting up the Christmas decorations. At the same time, we’ve squeezed a lot into those four and a half months. From the opening of Total Adrenaline and iTrain to our progress on health and social care integration, also known as Care Together, we’ve put the building blocks in place for a big 2017 in Tameside.

The Easter break is also a time to think about the importance of family and community.  There are many people who will celebrate Easter in the traditional sense; commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are others who choose not to celebrate Easter as a religious event but see the long weekend as a chance to spend time with their loved ones. However people choose to mark the date, it is unlikely that they will be doing it alone. It is that coming together, the shared experience of people despite their different beliefs and backgrounds, which gives Easter both its religious and its secular importance.

As always when I mark significant dates on this blog, I’d like to ask you to spare a thought for those who are vulnerable during Easter. Consideration for others is the glue that helps to hold our communities together. Donating the money you might have spent on another Easter egg, or taking a few hours out of your bank holiday could make a massive difference for those who are alone, homeless or in need of a helping hand. Please also think about giving a “Thank you” to those for whom the Easter weekend is just another couple of working days. From shop workers to the men and women in the NHS, police and armed forces; all of them have given up their holidays so that we may have ours in convenience and safety.

For those who want to celebrate Easter in a religious manner (even if you don’t count yourself as a regular churchgoer) every church in Tameside is putting on a full Easter programme of services, vigils and community events. If you want your Easter Egg Hunts and other things to do, we’ve got that covered as well. Tameside Council and its partners will be putting on a series of events for children and families over the Easter weekend. In Villemomble Square on Good Friday and Easter Saturday the famous Droylsden Easter Market will host a wide variety of attractions, such as craft stalls, raffles and tombolas for children and a beer tent for the adults. We’re also holding an egg hunt at Lower Higham Visitor Centre from 1pm-3pm on Easter Sunday, including competitions for the best dressed Easter eggs and bonnet. You can find a complete list of the events taking place in Tameside, during Easter and beyond, on the council’s website here.

Of course, after the Easter celebrations have passed we’ve still got the rest of the year to look forward to. On 4th May Tameside, along with the other Greater Manchester councils, will be holding the first elections for the position of Mayor of Greater Manchester. We’ll also keep working to maintain our vital services, put on great events for children and families and deliver on our pledges to our residents.

So enjoy this Easter, however you choose to celebrate it, and then let’s welcome the rest of 2017 in the spirit of optimism and community.
 
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Another Blow for Hard-Working Families

Wednesday, 05 April 2017

Have you ever wondered how you could end up being £2,700 a year poorer without doing anything? After tomorrow, all it will take is being born into a fairly normal British family.

I wrote around the time of the Budget last month that while the man himself may have left the Treasury, Osbornomics is still alive and kicking. Tomorrow that statement will be true in the most literal sense, as a raft of benefit and tax changes announced by Osborne when he was still Chancellor will come into effect. Among those changes include the limiting of child tax credits or Universal Credit payments to the first two children in every family.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this, but I’ll start with the obvious. It’s painfully clear that the government wants us to think that this cut is targeted at one of the most infamous tabloid hate figures, the family who stay at home and see children as a way of getting their hands on more benefit money. One slight problem; the people that will be affected the most by this cut are as far away from that imaginary caricature as you can get. The Resolution Foundation estimates that Thursday’s cuts will cost a middle-income with three children and both parents working £2,700 a year. That’s a heck of a lot for most people to lose.

The cut is bad enough in sheer monetary terms, but it becomes nothing short of actively cruel when you think about the knock-on effects. The government claim that they want to tackle the root causes of disadvantage, but forcing up to 200,000 children nationwide into poverty is a funny way of going about it. The cut also does nothing to take into account the fact that many people’s financial circumstances will change over time, often drastically and often not for the better. A family may be able to afford to raise more than two children now, but they could be one redundancy or one injury away from struggling for money in the future through no fault of their own.

That’s not even the worst of it. In some extreme cases, these cuts bring government intrusion into the most personal and traumatic parts of a person’s life back in a way that I hoped we’d left behind generations ago. What happens to the women who will have to prove to the government that their child was conceived from rape if they want to keep receiving the money they’re entitled to? It’s a policy so grotesque that I honestly refused to believe it when I first heard about it, and assurances received from senior figures in the government about how it will work out in practice have done little to change my view. I’m not saying any of this to shock or offend. I’m saying it because this is what happens in the real world when you start seeing women, children and families not as people, but as liabilities on a government balance sheet.  

What makes me truly angry is that it never had to be this way. The people that made and passed these cuts, Cameron, Osborne, Duncan-Smith, are no longer in charge. It would have cost Theresa May nothing to reverse them like she’s reversed so many other policies of the previous government. How powerful a message would it have sent to the hard-working but “just about managing” families she claims to support if she had scrapped cuts that singled them out for cruel, mean-spirited and unfair treatment?

Her failure to do so sends out a very different message. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And once again, it will be those who can ill-afford it who will end up paying the price.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Tackling Physical Inactivity

Monday, 03 April 2017

The British Heart Foundation this week published a report, the findings of which were that more than 20 million people in the UK are physically inactive. There were large regional variations and unfortunately our region, North West England, topped the table with 47% of the adult population considered physically inactive.

The 47% figure is all the more shocking when you consider the definition of ‘physically active’. The study didn’t require people to be marathon runners, or elite cyclists. To meet the criteria you wouldn’t even have to step in to a gym or a swimming pool either. The level activity you are required to undertake to be considered ‘active’ can be achieved by things that can be incorporated in to most people’s daily routine.

An active person is somebody who takes part in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. That’s half an hour of walking, cycling or even just mowing the lawn for 5 out of 7 days. Put simply, walk to and from the shops in your lunch hour every day and you’re ‘active’.

We all know that people have busy lives and often other things like family or work often take over, but it’s important that we make time for our health too. Inactivity contributes to an increased risk of a range of illnesses including heart disease, diabetes and strokes. It needlessly costs the NHS £11.2 billion every year, money that could be spent on a host of other things.

Whilst I had said that it’s not necessary to go to the gym or for a swim that’s not encouragement not to do so if you want to! Of course, I couldn’t write about health and exercise without taking the opportunity to promote the £20 million investment in our leisure facilities. We’ve recently seen the opening of iTRAIN in Dukinfield, a new 24/7 gym and fitness suite, and Total Adrenaline on the site of the former Active Longdendale. These will be followed by the opening of the new ‘Wellness Centre’ in Denton.

In addition to new leisure facilities there are also dozens of events and activities taking place across Tameside that you could also get involved in to get active. Tameside has a huge range of walks and trails you could try out one the weekend or on a day off. Our 3-2-1 running courses in Hyde and Dukinfield Parks are free to use whenever the park is open. Volunteer led park runs take place every Saturday in Stamford Park and Hyde Park and this June will see the Tour of Tameside return to the Borough’s streets.

It’s clear that there’s plenty we can do to get more active for little or no cost. Together we can reduce the pressures on our health services by making Tameside a healthier, happier Borough.

Posted by: Executive Leader


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