Executive Leader Cllr Kieran Quinn

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Councillor Kieran Quinn, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for December 2016

Merry Christmas Tameside!

Friday, 23 December 2016

KQ Leaders Christmas Card
It’s that time again. On behalf of Tameside Council I would like to take this chance to wish you, your family and your friends a Happy and Peaceful Christmas and New Year.

As I do every year, I would ask you to keep those who are less fortunate than us in your thoughts over the Christmas period. The strength of a community is judged not by how they treat their best off, but on how they treat their worst off. A simple donation of time or money could make all the difference to somebody alone, homeless or vulnerable at this time of year.

Let’s also keep on our thoughts everybody for whom Christmas is another working day, particularly those in the armed forces, the NHS, our health and social care workers and the police and fire services. While we sit down to enjoy our turkey and crackers they will be working hard to make sure that we can do so in safety and comfort.

The Christmas holidays are always a good time to take a step back and take stock of the year that has just passed. It would be fair to say that there is a lot more to reflect on in 2016 than there has been in any year I can remember. From the passing of so many people who have enriched our lives and culture to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, I wouldn’t blame you if you felt that 365 days is too short a time to cram in everything that has happened.

It’s been a significant year in Tameside as well. On a sombre note, it began and ended with floods. Tameside is not an area that many would associate with such flooding, but we faced one of the wettest Januarys on national record and then a month’s worth of rain falling in a few hours at the end of November. I’d like to thank the efforts of our communities and council employees during both incidents, many of whom went far above and beyond the call of duty to help residents and clean up after the deluge had subsided. Unfortunately, given what we know about the effects of manmade climate change, we will almost certainly have to prepare as a borough, as a country and as a planet for more and worse events in the future.

But let’s focus on the positive as well. Our plans, announced at the start of the year, to invest £20 million in our leisure centres are beginning to bear fruit. New facilities have opened at Total Adrenaline in Mottram, and next year will see both the opening of Dukinfield’s iTrain gym and the work beginning on a new swimming pool for Hyde and the Denton Wellness Centre. We’re continuing to make good progress on our trailblazing work on health and social care integration, working together to help people live longer and healthier lives while saving money at the same time. We have completed many of our pledges for 2016, such as Dementia Friends, Woodland for Wildlife and Do More Together, and work on other pledges such as Honour Our Fallen, Lots More Lighting and Every Child a Coder will continue into the New Year and beyond.

Despite very difficult global and financial circumstances, I feel confident that we’ve made Tameside a better place to live at the end of the year than it was at the start. Next year, we’ll build on that success, working with our residents and partners to move the borough we all love onwards and upwards.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2017.

Posted by: Executive Leader


A Successful Year at GMPF

Friday, 23 December 2016

GMPF

Some of you might know that as well as serving as the Executive Leader of Tameside Council I am also the Chair of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund. I’ve written a little bit about pensions in this blog in the past, but as we come to the end of the year I want to take the chance to put a little more focus on what has been a truly momentous year in the world of local government pensions.

With 352,292 members and over £20 billion in assets the Greater Manchester Pension Fund is by far the largest local government pension fund in the country. Though as a fund with even higher ambitions, at the start of the year we reached an agreement to team up with fellow pension funds in Merseyside, Lancashire and West Yorkshire to create a £40 billion combined pension pool.

All well and good, you might say, but what does that actually mean? I’ve written a lot this year about some of the problems Tameside and Britain faces, the most relevant ones here being our productivity crisis and the fact that a small minority of businesses are still getting away with not meeting their obligations to their employees and society. Getting pension funds, in Greater Manchester and elsewhere, to combine their resources is the way we are starting to create our own solutions to these big national issues.

The way we’re going to do that is quite simple. £40 billion is a lot of money, and we can use that money to invest in projects that are good for the pension fund and good for our society and economy as well. Pension funds are uniquely placed to make this happen. We’re embedded in our local communities, we have the sheer financial muscle needed and we’re an investor for the long term. Governments and private companies will often not touch an investment that will only start providing a return years or decades from now, but that project is perfect for a pension fund which needs to find ways to pay out to members years and decades from now. We’re already doing this to a certain extent, but the plans that we have started to put in place this year will allow us to do this quicker, better and on a larger scale.

Investing in infrastructure is not the only thing we can do, we can also invest in businesses as well. That gives us the opportunity to influence their board of directors and management by exercising our rights as shareholders. If we think a company executive is being paid too much for the job they are doing, we can do something about it. If we’re unhappy with a business using zero-hour contracts and tax havens, we can do something about it. This is something that is already happening. To give just one example, companies that had to backtrack over pay increases for executives due to shareholder opposition in the last year alone include betting company Paddy Power, online gambling firm PlayTech and the Foxtons estate agency. Next year we’ll be working together on ways to make sure that the voices of pension funds are heard further in all the places in which we hold assets.

There’s no doubt in my mind that 2016 will go down as a milestone year in pensions. If you’re a member of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, rest assured that your retirement is safe in our hands. If you’re a resident of Tameside, rest assured that we all supporting investment that will make the borough is better place to live, work and do business in. If you’re concerned with how some businesses run things, rest assured that those concerns are shared by us as well. Roll on 2017, and the next step.


Posted by: Executive Leader


A Greener Borough

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Cllr Quinn thanked countryside volunteers who have planted thousands of trees in Tameside

Cllr Quinn thanked countryside volunteers who have planted thousands of trees in Tameside

‘Think globally, act locally’ is the motto of environmentalist groups around the world. Quite literally it means that each of us can collectively rise to the global challenge of climate change by beginning at home and make small changes to our lifestyle or behaviour. This could be stopping eating meat for one day per week as encouraged by the celebrity-backed meat free Monday campaign, cycling to work a few days per month instead of driving, or turning over part of the garden for vegetable growing to reduce food miles.

Each of these small actions, if replicated by all 220,000 residents of Tameside, or all 65,000,000 people in the UK, can make a huge contribution to reducing the damaging greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for many of the extreme weather events we’ve had recently.

Large organisations like the Council clearly have a role to play too. This can either be as an enabler that makes it easier for residents to do the right thing or by taking action ourselves. Our pledges for this year contain examples of both. The ‘Get Tameside Growing’ pledge has been led by our excellent greenspaces team. They’ve worked hard throughout the summer with local schools and a range of voluntary groups to build capacity for communities to become more self-sufficient with respect to food. As an example, the two allotments cared for by mental health charity Mind have not only produced local, organic food but provided therapy for people with learning disabilities too.

Our decision to expand recycling facilities in public buildings and town centres is another case of where we’ve provided the means for others to be greener. As everybody living in Tameside will know already, the way domestic refuse is collected was changed some time ago in an effort to improve recycling rates. Clearly the home is not the only place where waste is generated, and so if we wanted to divert even more of Tameside’s refuse away from landfill then we had to do something else too. At the last count our recycling rate was over 55%, an increase of more than 15 percentage points compared to two years ago. The savings on landfill tax are also going a little way towards offsetting the impact of the enormous government cuts we’ve had to face.

Two of our pledges for this year fall in to the category of ‘direct action’ where the Council has made green choices itself. Firstly, the street lighting replacement programme is well in to its second year and over 8000 lanterns have been replaced with super-efficient LEDs so far. The savings on electricity usage have been enormous, and the reliability of this new type of lamp means that money will also be saved as a result of fewer repair callouts needing to be made. Secondly there is our pledge to plant at least 2016 trees for 2016. This target has been smashed at relatively little cost to the taxpayer. The trees have been provided free by Ovo energy or bought using contributions that developers have made for environmental improvements following a construction project, and the planting work has been carried out by conservation volunteers. It is hoped that, as well as punctuating our urban landscape and improving air quality, they could help to reduce the impact of flooding in the future by breaking up the soil with their roots and increasing its capacity to hold water.

And so Tameside is doing much to tackle climate change. It could be argued that we are setting an example for others to follow. It’s for this reason that I’ll continue to talk up this Council’s green credentials in the hope that they do. It is, after all, in all of our interests.


Posted by: Executive Leader


Railway privatisation – haven’t we been here before?

Monday, 19 December 2016

Railways
There’s a popular saying, apparently coined by Albert Einstein, that the definition of insanity is “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.

I’ve written about this in the past, but for those who missed it last time here’s how I summed up how the UK runs its railways. It’s an expensive joke; privatisation has led to the consumer paying some of the highest costs in Europe for the worst levels of service while railway operators rake in ridiculous profits. The result of this price gouging and mismanagement has been that support for renationalising our railways crosses geographical, social and party political lines. People who agree on literally nothing else; Labour or Tory, Leave or Remain, agree that our railways would be better off back in public hands.

So how does our government, in its infinite wisdom, respond to this unprecedented groundswell of popular opinion? They do the exact opposite.

The announcement by the Transport Secretary of a fully privatised railway line from Oxford to Cambridge, the so-called “Varsity Line”, is problematic for a number of reasons. The first one requires a little bit of background. When the railways were first privatised in the 90s, the infrastructure (tracks, signals, tunnels, bridges, level crossings and most of the stations) passed into the hands of a private company called RailTrack. The problem with this arrangement was that RailTrack was obliged to deliver a profit while at the same time maintaining the infrastructure required for our trains to run quickly and safely. Following a series of incidents, investigations revealed that the bill to meet the maintenance backlog after years of private neglect ran up to £580 million. That led to RailTrack being shut down and replaced by publically-owned Network Rail (but not before RailTrack used £137 million of public bailout money to pay its shareholders despite making a half a billion pound loss). Bringing back private running of infrastructure on the new Varsity Line makes me fear that this government, having not learnt from the sad history of RailTrack, is doomed to repeat it.

The second problem is that while the government is falling over itself to plough hundreds of millions of pounds into a railway linking one leafy, rich bit of the South to another leafy, rich bit of the South vital projects in the North continue to be kicked into the long grass. We’ve had no further details on what’s happening with the Transpennine and East Midlands electrifications following the announcement that work on them would be “unpaused”, and further afield the electrification of the Hull-Selby line has been cancelled entirely. Modern transport infrastructure is at the heart of every serious plan for making the “Northern Powerhouse” a reality. The difference in age, speed and cleanliness on the railways in the North and the South is one of the starkest illustrations of the divide within our country, and any backtracking on putting the money in to start fixing it is worrying to say the least.

We need to make the North’s voice heard loud and clear when it comes to handing out the money for vital rail projects, and that needs to be embedded in a national rail system that works for the taxpayer and passengers. At the moment we have neither, and all we’ve been promised is more privatisation and more money for the South. The government is doing the same thing over and over again, and I’m certainly not expecting a different result this time.


Posted by: Executive Leader


The social care precept is not the answer

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Social Care
At the start of the month I wrote on this blog expressing my shock and disappointment that Adult Social Care received no additional funding in the Autumn Statement. In the face of a funding crisis in one of our most vital services the government seems to have decided to bury its head in the sand. That’s despite Members of Parliament, local government officials and members of the medical profession, of every political colour, warning them of the catastrophic consequences of doing so.

Fortunately, it looks like the government have realised their mistake and are starting to say something on funding for adult social care. Unfortunately, it looks like all they have to say is offering “solutions” that have been tried and found wanting before.

Cast your mind back to around this time last year, when the then-Chancellor George Osborne announced that councils would be allowed to raise their council tax by up to 2% as a “social care precept”. The government have today announced that for the next two years Councils have the option of levying a larger 3% precept.

Putting side the creative bankruptcy of reheating a policy that was barely a year old to begin with, there more than a few reasons why imposing a greater burden on councils to fund adult social care didn’t work then and won’t work now.

The first is the simple fact that a 3% increase in council tax does not raise anywhere near the amount required to plug funding shortfalls. Last time round an overwhelming majority of local authorities took the maximum possible council tax precept, raising around £383 million nationwide. That sounds like a lot but it barely covered two thirds of the sector’s cost increases for the year. Even with the precept the total shortfall in adult social care funding for 2016-17 alone was estimated at £940 million. There is absolutely no reason to think that allowing councils to raise the precept further will improve this situation.

Neither does this take into account the fact that this additional funding was not distributed equally. The amount of money a local authority can raise from the social care precept is determined by their council tax base. For example, here in Tameside our social care precept raised around £1.4 million, but the same level of increase by Oxfordshire Council saw them bring in £5.9 million in additional funding. Local authorities with lower council tax bases are also likely to have a higher demand for social care services. The result is a system where the areas with the highest need receive the lowest funding. It would be hard to find a more unfair way of doing things.

I said last time I spoke about this that a government’s spending commitments are the best way to tell what their true priorities are. Anybody that wants to know if our social care services will be there for them, their parents or their grandparents should be deeply concerned at the fact that the government is passing the buck for funding to cash-strapped councils while they continue to pile billions into things like corporation tax cuts. The government may say that they want a country that works for everyone, but the ongoing social care debacle shows that they have a very odd way of going about it.


Posted by: Executive Leader


The Teaching Crisis Cannot Be Ignored

Wednesday, 07 December 2016

The Teaching Crisis Cannot Be Ignored
Ask me what part of the public sector has undergone the most radical change in the last decade or so and my answer will always be “education”. From the (thankfully) dropped lunacy of making every school an academy, to the newer but equally hare-brained policy to reintroduce grammar schools, barely a day goes by where the government doesn’t have a new kick at the political football that our education system has become. The people affected by this the most are, of course, the pupils themselves and the teachers who work with them. For teachers in particular, their job is a hard enough one at the best of times, but over the last six years they’ve had to put up with their roles changing beneath their feet as well.

Is it really surprising that so many of our current and potential future teachers have decided that they’ve had enough? Two recent events have pulled the crisis we face in recruiting and retraining teachers into the public eye.

The first is a report by Sir Michael Wilshaw, which concludes that constant structural changes to the education system have meant that staffing concerns have taken a back seat, with disastrous results. In the year 2015-16, 15 of 18 secondary subjects had unfilled teaching places and 43,000 qualified teachers (or one in ten out of the entire workforce) left the state education sector entirely. These shortages have not been felt evenly. While ¾ of physics teaching vacancies have been filled, that goes down to less than ½ with design and technology places. Schools that face more challenging circumstances are also feeling the impact, with the percentage of unqualified teachers in schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils close to double that of schools with few disadvantaged pupils.

The second warning sign is the spectacular failure of the government’s plans to get more people into the teaching profession. The National Teacher Service (NTS) announced by the-then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, aimed to recruit 1,500 teachers to schools with the highest need. The initial pilot ran here in the North West and aimed to find places for 100 applicants. A Freedom of Information request by the Times Education Supplement has revealed that only 116 people applied to the scheme in total, of which only 54 were recruited. The entire scheme has now been closed down, and what was supposed to be a flagship policy has been shown up as a waste of time, effort and money in the face of growing crisis.

I have a personal grievance with this as well. For the past few years the Council and our partners have been fighting tooth and nail to raise exam results and give our pupils and teachers the best possible environment to excel and achieve. We invested over £250 million in state of the art facilities and supporting the setting up the A+ Trust to share expertise and best practice. Our percentage of pupils receiving at least 5 A*-C grades has gone up for three years straight, putting us above the English national average. We’ve done this in spite of and not because of many of the actions of this government.

Having enough teachers is important. Having enough good teachers is even more important. When people look back to their school days they think about the teachers that really knew their stuff and made them care about the subjects they taught. The right teacher in the right place with the right resources can make an incredible difference to the lives of so many people. The damage that the government’s self-inflicted teaching crisis is doing to school standards and the life chances of our young people is incalculable. We cannot let them endanger our children’s education any further.

Posted by: Executive Leader


Not just any Christmas market!

Friday, 02 December 2016

Xmas Markets 10

This year’s market will include fairground rides

Today is the first day of the Tameside Christmas Market. Visitors to Ashton in recent days may already have witnessed the arrival of the festive cabins that have landed, rather appropriately, on Market Street behind the Market Hall. From 11am the area will come to life with local traders selling a range of festive gifts, foods and crafts.

Of course Christmas Markets have become so common now that it’s unusual for a town centre not to have one. The clusters of wooden huts in the market place and the smell of hog roast carrying over crowds of revellers drinking cups of glühwein are ubiquitous in British towns and cities at this time of year. It’s for this reason that, as part of our Christmas Market arrangements, we were determined that there was a ‘Tameside difference’. This difference forms part of both the set up and the trading.

In setting up the market we worked with Tameside College joinery and electronics students. The joinery students helped assemble the cabins and the electronics students completed the wiring for the lighting systems. Some of the materials for the work were provided for free by local firm Benchmark Building Supplies and the experience will likely prove invaluable for the young people when they look to enter the world of work at the end of their courses.

Anybody who goes along to the market will see that the traders are almost exclusively local too. Whilst some markets tout their selling point as having genuine German traders who have travelled all of the way from Bavaria, our unique selling point is that we are supporting our local businesses. This issue is particularly relevant given that the first weekend of the market coincides with Small Business Saturday which I wrote about last week.

Finally, now seems as good a time as any to look back at the Christmas celebrations that have taken place across Tameside’s nine towns. The big man himself, Father Christmas has been busy visiting all of them, beginning in Dukinfield on the 16th November and finishing in Denton the weekend just gone. All of the events passed successfully having been ably organised by the local town teams. I’d like to offer my thanks to the dozens of volunteers on the town teams who, for no reward, give up their time to organise not just Christmas events, but events throughout the year that support the vibrancy and success of our town centres.

Tameside’s Christmas Market runs for the next three weekends and details can be found here.

I’m sure that this won’t be the last time I say this on my blog this year, but just in case this is the last one you read before the big day, have a very Merry Christmas.


Posted by: Executive Leader


The Autumn Statement (Part 2): Inaction in the Face of Crisis

Thursday, 01 December 2016

The Autumn Statement
Last week I wrote my initial response to the government’s Autumn Statement expressing my disappointment that, despite some encouraging signs when she first took office, the Prime Minister has fallen into the familiar pattern of promising radical action and then failing to deliver in anything like the scale or size required. I said then that starving the country of investment in infrastructure and services and refusing to give much-needed support to struggling families had the potential to be catastrophic to our society and economy.

Unfortunately, it gives me no pleasure to say that as the dust settles it looks like several national organisations are in agreement with me.

Let’s take the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) first. The IFS provides economic analysis independent of the government or any other political interest, and their reports are considered to be authoritative and well-respected. Their conclusions following the Autumn Statement are grim indeed. Their data shows that British workers are in the midst of the longest squeeze in their pay since the 1920s, and that real wages – pay adjusted for inflation – in the UK will not have recovered to their pre-Global Financial Crisis levels in 2021. That’s almost a decade and a half without a pay raise for a large amount of Britain’s workers, with the young and the low-paid being hit particularly hard. When it’s all said and done, the toxic brew of the government’s refusal to reverse cuts to Universal Credit, rising inflation and stagnant pay packets is estimated to cost 11 million households up to £390 a year. That’s money that many families working hard to keep their heads above water cannot afford to lose.

The second issue that is catching attention for all the wrong reasons is the Autumn Statement’s near complete silence on the subject of adult social care. The Association of Directors and Adult Social Services (ADASS) has warned that 62% of councils have faced residential and nursing home closures and 57% have had care providers hand back contracts in the past six months. We know that extra council tax raising powers are not bringing in anywhere near the money required, to say nothing about the unfair burden they place on councils with low tax bases which face higher demand with less ability to pay for it. That means that our residents are at serious risk of not getting the support they need to remain comfortable and independent at the end of their lives. That means that the National Health Service will face further financial and capacity pressures as people stay longer in hospital than they should, or are forced into hospital when they really shouldn’t have to be. A national crisis in adult social care is unfolding right now before our very eyes. National crises demand a national response, and the fact that the government has decided that it is unworthy of immediate financial attention is almost beyond belief.

Any government’s spending commitments tell you more than just the facts about what they’re going to spend; it tells you what their priorities are. Judging by the Autumn Statement so far, the government does not consider addressing a once-in-a-century crisis in living standards to be a priority. It does not consider the dignity and welfare of our oldest and most vulnerable citizens to be a priority. The time has come for them to take responsibility; they must either make extra funding and support available, or come clean about the impact of what they have let unfold on their watch. We will all suffer the consequences if they don’t.

Posted by: Executive Leader


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