Executive Leader Cllr Kieran Quinn

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Councillor Kieran Quinn, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for August 2017

A Step Backwards on Fair Pay

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Call it a U-turn, call it watering down, call it broken promises or anything else you want. When it comes from craven retreats from their own policies, I challenge anybody to find another government, at anywhere and anytime, that has done so with such frequency. From elections to taxation to infrastructure, now we can add excessive pay into the mix as well.

John Maynard Keynes, one of the giants of the modern economics, asked in 1913 why workers in the City of London receive more remuneration than “other servants of society receive for performing social service not less useful or difficult?” Over a century, two world wars and several governments later, we’re no closer to answering that question. At the end of last year it looked like the Prime Minister, seeking to broaden her government’s appeal, was lining up her own shot at solving Keynes’ age-old problem. Some of her plans, including allowing shareholders to veto executive pay packages and putting workers onto company boards, were genuinely radical for a party that had until that point defended almost every excess and abuse so long as it was done in the name of business.

Fast forward ten months and a botched election, and the government is now trying to come out of the blocks after the summer Parliamentary recess by releasing the first draft of those much-anticipated corporate government reforms. To so that they are a shadow of what we were promised in November is putting it mildly.

Gone is the shareholder veto, now all that is required is for shareholder protest to be noted on a new public register. Workers in boardrooms have met the same fate, replaced unceremoniously by a non-executive director “to represent employees” (whatever that means). The disembowelling has been so total that the minister in charge, Business Secretary Greg Clark, has gone into hiding instead of announcing and defending the policies on the airwaves this week.

This is more than a tragedy; it’s a dereliction of duty. The economic arguments for calling time on excessive pay have been discussed at length elsewhere, but I’d go further and argue that there is a moral case to be made as well. It’s immoral that the ratios between FTSE 100s executives and the median salary of their staff has gone up from 45:1 to 130:1 in the space of twenty years. It’s immoral that a tiny minority have seen their pay packages skyrocket beyond dreams of avarice while the vast majority struggle with declining wages and increased costs of living. It’s immoral that in some cases, top executives can receive massive compensation for performances that would get them sacked in any other line of work. Two examples that spring to mind here are BP’s Robert Dudley, who got a 20% pay rise after leading the company to a record loss, and Yahoo’s Henrique de Castro, who walked away with $109 million despite lasting only 15 months in the job.   

At its worst, behaviour such as that mentioned above calls into question the very legitimacy of the way our society and economy is run. At the absolute least the initial governance ideas presented by the Prime Minister in November need to be brought back and implemented in full. I’ve also mentioned in the past measures, such as an “inequality tax” on excessive pay, which could incentivise the right behaviour and fund public services more effectively than the blunt instrument of a hard cap on earnings. As extremist politics creep into back to the Western world in a way that hasn’t been seen in a generation, the message is clear.  Reform is not just desirable, it may very well be essential.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Happy Bank Holiday Weekend!

Friday, 25 August 2017

Dry, bright and warm. That’s the forecast for the coming bank holiday weekend, and with such a good weather outlook the people of Tameside will be able to take advantage of the whole host of indoor and outdoor activities on offer.

Whilst the summer holidays are drawing to a close, participation in our comprehensive programme of events has been at record levels this year. In particular our summer reading challenge has had more than 2000 children sign up, 500 more than at the same point this time last year.

Theatre in the park has been a huge hit and too and, as the weather has been kind to us, we did not have to cancel any of the showings due to heavy rains like those that scuppered some events last year!

It has been widely reported this morning that there will be significant travel disruption on the roads and railways, and the number of people planning a getaway this weekend is significantly up on last year. In that case it’s fortunate that there will be so much to do right here.

Whatever you do this weekend, whether you visit one of our award winning parks for a picnic, go to the “Let’s Play” event at Portland Basin, or go for a walk in Tameside’s picturesque countryside, stay safe and have fun.

Enjoy the Bank Holiday. It is, after all, the last one before Christmas Day!
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Joining In The Moan In

Tuesday, 22 August 2017


There are times in everybody’s life where the only thing you want to do is have a good moan. Whether it’s about the weather, some plan that hasn’t gone as you’d like or anything else that comes to mind, moaning about it can always help you feel a bit better about things. But what if there was a way to harness this most British of pastimes to make a real difference as well? That’s what the IPPR North, a Manchester-based think tank, tried to make happen this week with their “day of moaning”.

The idea was simple. If anybody in the North had any public transport-related moans on Monday, they were encouraged to voice them as loudly and as publically as possible. Annoyed at the fact that a third of the trains servicing the North are only been replaced now even though they were out of date 30 years ago? Phone up your local TV or radio show and let them know all about it. Irritated that the government betrayed their manifesto promise on bringing the North’s railways up to modern standards only to announce £30 billion for another bauble for London a day later? Have your moan and then send it in writing to your local MP as well (I promise that, in Tameside at least, they’re just as angry about it as you are).

What do we want to get out of it? The IPPR North have put their heads together and estimated how much it would cost to right the imbalance of government funding for trains and buses in London compared to the North of England. They came up with a figure of £59 billion. That might sound like a lot, but you have to bear in mind a few things. That £59 billion has to make up for decades of neglect. That £59 billion is half the cost of a single project in London. That £59 billion will allow the North’s 15 million people, 5 major cities, 29 universities, 8 major ports and international airport to contribute more fully to the British economy, paying back the investment and then some through increases in GDP and productivity.

“All well and good”, I hear the cynics say, “But the North has been ignored in favour of London for decades. What makes you think that’s going to change now?” It’s a fair question, and one that I think both deserves and has an answer. When it comes to making its voice heard, the North is stronger than it has been in a long time. We’ve got a group of elected mayors who, buttressed by their mandate and the support of local MPs and councillors, can and will put a public face on our demands. Through bodies like Transport for Greater Manchester, Transport for the North and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority the organisation is there to turn new funding into infrastructure on the ground at a quick pace. On the other hand, the government is weaker than it has been in a long time. I’ve commented on their taste for U-turns before, but off the top of my head here’s just some of the big ones; calling a snap election, national insurance increases, taking in refugee children, scrapping the Hinckley Point power station, the dementia tax and energy price caps.

The lesson should be heard loud and clear, the government can and will buckle when the pressure is on. Let’s make sure that there are as many moaning Northerners as possible applying that pressure. Not just for one day, but until we get the fairness in transport funding that is due to us. Like the IPPR’s petition says, Northern prosperity is national prosperity.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Take Charge of Your Health this Summer

Friday, 18 August 2017

It’s strange to think that’s it’s been over 2 and a half years since Greater Manchester signed the agreement to get full control of its £6 billion health and social care budget. Since then, the transformation of our health and social care services in Greater Manchester has been driving forward at a steady pace. That process was given a boost at the start of the summer by the announcement that Lord Peter Smith would take on the essential role of Chair of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Strategic Partnership Board. Bringing decades of experience in local government to the role, I am confident that he will help us build on the good work that has taken place so far.

That being said, I know that most people in Tameside neither know nor particularly care about the inner workings of integration, Strategic Partnership Boards and the like. They, quite rightly, want to know what it all means for them. At its heart, what integration means for places like Tameside is that decisions that affect our health and our services will be made by those who know the area, know its people and know what needs to be done. A big focus so far has been on preventive care, improving the quality of life of our residents and reducing demand on services by encouraging people to take charge of their own health.

To meet that goal, local government, NHS Trusts and Public Health England have teamed up to provide a wide range of useful information and services. One of the most interesting in my view is Change 4 Life. First set up in 2009, Change 4 Life uses television, social media, radio and other channels to show people they can make small, sustainable and significant improvements to their health, diets and alcohol consumption. Their website in particular is definitely worth a look, as it contains everything from facts about different kinds of food, ideas for activities and recipes and fun games to get young people engaged and informed. All of it is presented in a simple, colourful and easy to use format. It’s absolutely one of the first places I’d go if I wanted to do more to take control of my own and my family’s health.

There are also other helpful services closer to home as well. For over two years our Public Health service has put out monthly “Picture of Health” information sheets. Every month is themed around a particular focus, including particular groups of people (Men, women, older people, LGBT communities) and the health matters which affect them, in-depth looks at certain conditions like cancer, diabetes or heart disease, and lifestyle factors such as tobacco, alcohol and exercise. Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust are also running a summer-long series of free 2 hour long health and wellbeing sessions at Ashton Primary Care Centre, covering subjects such as portion control, eating well and understanding food labels. Details about these can be found on Active Tameside’s Live Well website here.

So whether you’re just starting to work on your health and lifestyle, or if you’re already gone part of the way and want to go a little further, I encourage you to take a look at the tools and services that are on offer to help you out. Our ambition is to improve life expectancy in Tameside up to at least the English average, and with your help I can no reason why that can’t be done. It will make people’s live better, and it will save our health and social care services money without compromising on quality. More importantly than either of those though, it is simply the right thing to do.    
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Britain Going Cold: The Other Side of the Cost of Living Crisis

Tuesday, 15 August 2017


Regular readers of my blog will know the cost of living crisis is a topic that I frequently visit. I make no apologies for that. An issue as serious as a decent chunk of the British population being unable to afford the basics of life, despite most of them being in work, is an issue that demands a great deal of attention. Last time I covered it I mentioned that the 2010s are predicted to be the worse for wage growth since the Napoleonic Wars. Today I want to look at it from a different, but equally important angle. People are getting poorer, yes, but things are getting more expensive as well.

Nowhere can be this seen more clearly than with our energy bills. Take what we know to be a fairly average example, a family that use around 15,000 kilowatt hours of gas and 3,800 kilowatt hours of electricity a year. From 2010-16 their bills have gone up £883 a year compared to what they would have paid if energy costs if prices had risen in line with inflation. Now, that doesn’t mean that everybody has seen their energy bills go up by that much. However, the figure does illustrate that something is happening with pricing that normal processes like inflation cannot come close to explaining. 

Not that that has stopped the energy companies. At the start of this month British Gas became the last of the “Big Six” (along with EDF, nPower, E.On, Scottish Power and SSE) to announce a 12.5% increase in their prices from September. This came despite Centrica, who own British Gas, recently declaring underlying operating profits of £816 million for the first six months of 2017. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the energy regulator, Ofgem, publically stated at the beginning of the year that they saw no commercial case for price rises this year. It should be even less of a surprise that they were completely ignored.

It’s easy to hold the energy suppliers responsible for all of this, but we have to remember as well that they operate within a fundamentally broken system. It can’t be a coincidence that this latest price rise follows the news that the energy price cap promised by the government (which, let’s not forget, they came out vocally against when Labour first proposed it) looks to be dead on arrival. It wasn’t mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, and the closest thing we’ve seen to it since then is a plan to extend an already-existing “safeguard tariff” to 2.2 million of the country’s most vulnerable customers. That’s all well and good, but it’s nowhere near what was promised and does nothing for the 14 million households that remain. It looks like the iron rule when dealing with this government remains intact. Put pressure on them on anything, even policies that may actually be popular and workable, and they’ll crumble.

So what should be done instead? Entire essays have been written on that, but I think a few targeted interventions could make a big difference. Firstly, an energy price cap, set at a level that is sustainable for customers and suppliers, needs to be introduced as soon as possible. Secondly, we need to take a serious look at the framework of the current tariff system, which gives suppliers perverse incentives to provide major discounts to new customers while overcharging everybody else (usually older and poorer customers who are less likely to switch) to compensate. Thirdly, Ofgem needs to be given the green light to be more aggressive in both protecting customers and ensuring a fair and open market for energy.

Energy is not a luxury item. Prices increasing beyond people’s ability to pay are bad enough, but worse still is the fact that it is happening because of systematic failure that has been decades in the making. When markets are flawed, it falls to governments to step in. It cannot come soon enough.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Tackling the Shame of Summer Hunger

Friday, 11 August 2017


 
For many children, the summer holidays are the highlight of the year, six weeks of freedom from school, glorious weather and family get-togethers. For an increasing number of children across the country, and in Tameside as well, the summer holidays are something very different, six weeks of hunger, isolation and struggle. That harrowing fact tells you everything you need to do know about what seven years of austerity have inflicted upon our society.

The numbers, unfortunately, don’t lie. Data by the Trussell Trust shows that they handed out 41,000 food packs in 2009/10. By 2016/17, that had gone up to 1.2 million, an increase of over 2800%. Don’t forget as well that although the Trussell Trust is by far the largest food bank network in the country, they only run 50% of the food banks nationwide. That means that the actual number of users is likely to be far higher. Nor, crucially, is that need static over the course of the year. Going to the Trussell Trust’s data again, between July and August last year they handed out 67,506 three-day emergency food parcels compared with 63,094 in the May-June period, an increase of 4,412. There’s absolutely no reason to think that surge isn’t repeating itself this year.

The reason for that is simple. Children on their summer holidays are children who aren’t getting food through breakfast clubs or free school meals. For many families, especially those struggling with debt, zero-hour contracts, benefits delays or other issues, the money is simply not there to budget out additional food over the holiday period. It seems like common sense when you think about it, but we have none of the research in place that would allow us to identify and assist those most in need. In response to Angela Rayner’s question to Parliament about the issue, the government responded that it “had made no assessment of the number of children who are at risk of experiencing hunger during school summer holidays in 2017”.

It’s not just food either. The ending of the school year frees up a lot of time in children’s daily lives, and when you’re spending every penny and more to put food on the table that doesn’t leave room for holidays, days out or even smaller activities. In those cases, isolation can be just as great a risk as hunger. It’s for this reason that the Trussell Trust are branching out into opening holiday clubs, providing meals to children over the summer as well as a activities and learning opportunities. Here in Tameside as well, we have prided ourselves on putting on as wide of variety of holiday activities as we can, keeping them free whenever possible. If you haven’t yet, I absolutely urge you to take a lot at the August edition of our monthly “What’s On” guide to see if there’s anything that looks interesting to you or your family.

Food banks and holiday clubs serve a very important purpose, but they remain sticking plasters to the gaping holes that have been torn in Britain’s social safety net. I haven’t met a single person who works in a food bank who wouldn’t be delighted if their role became obsolete tomorrow. To make that a reality a lot of things need to change. We need a government that takes the problems of high cost of living, stagnant wages and unstable employment seriously. We need social security that supports those in need back onto their feet instead of dragging them further under. We need to come together to undo the damage that austerity has wrought. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick, but we shouldn’t stop until every child can enjoy their summer again.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Smart Wireless Internet for Tameside: On the Cutting Edge of Online

Tuesday, 08 August 2017


 
You may have seen the stickers all around the borough, and now you’ve found out what they actually mean. Free Wi Fi has arrived in all of Tameside’s town centres. On Monday I was joined at Ashton Old Baths by Councillor Jim Fitzpatrick, the council’s executive member for information and communications technology; Dean Cookson from Purple Wi-Fi and Mark Made, managing director as Network Connect as we put Tameside at the forefront of the digital revolution not just in Greater Manchester, but in the entire North West.

And make no mistake, when I say the Wi Fi is free, that really means free. The Smart Wireless Internet for Tameside (or SWIFT Wi Fi for short) is open for anybody with a compatible device (phone, laptop etc) within its service area. There are no limits on downloads or streaming, and to make it safe for young people to use access to websites will operate under the same strict and proven policies used in Tameside’s libraries. Logging in can be done via a Twitter or Facebook account or simply as a guest, and people will automatically be connected as they move in and out of our town centres.

Getting involved in digital infrastructure like this is a bold new step, and I know there are some who question why local government is concerning itself with projects like this in a time of austerity. Let me be clear, setting up one of the most comprehensive and extensive public Wi Fi networks in the UK outside of a major city is a low-cost, low-risk investment that will being great benefits not just for our residents, but for our business as well. Free Wi Fi will not just attract people to our town centres, it will get them to stay longer and make more use of our shops and services. We’re also working with our partners to use the free Wi Fi to provide new and linked up digital services in a way we would have never been able to do under other circumstances. It’ll strap rocket boosters onto our Coding Clubs and Hackathons, giving our children a solid grounding in digital skills and opening their minds to the opportunities and possibilities that technology can offer them. Our colleges and health providers are exploring ways link up their own Wi Fi services with the SWIFT network, with the potential to offer seamless connectivity to students, staff or patients wherever they are in Tameside. The option also exists within the system to set up a premium service for businesses and households in the future.

The best bit from a value for money standpoint is that we haven’t had to create a whole new set of infrastructure for the SWIFT network. In the vast majority of cases, we’ve been able to fit it around what’s already there. The Wi Fi emitters that transmit the signal are embedded in our town halls or in our new LED lamp posts, produced at the Tame Street depot in Stalybridge. Ashton and Dukinfield are also benefitting from dark fibre broadband, offering the highest speeds and reliability in the UK, installed through the Metrolink lines and into Ashton Old Baths during its conversion as a digital media hub. 

I’m delighted that our vision for free Wi Fi in Tameside has become a reality. Not only have we kept our pledge to get Tameside connected, we will release the economic and social benefits that will come from creating an environment for the borough to prosper in the 21st century. So if you’re in and about Tameside in the future make sure you give the SWIFT Wi Fi network a spin. Whether it’s to check the weather, update your Facebook or look for the bus times, there’s a way to make it work for you.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Have Your Say on Business Rates in Tameside

Friday, 04 August 2017


 
The 2012 Pasty Tax, the 2015 Tax Credit cuts, the 2016 Disability Benefit cuts and most recently the National Insurance hike all have one thing in common. They’re all Tory budget U-Turns – U-Turns that I welcome I might add! However one Tory budget measure that they didn’t completely U-Turn on, but did partially, is the revaluation of business rates.

For those who have been watching the debate about business rates in recent years, you’ll know that this is just the latest curve on a long and tortuous road. By normal standards, the last business rates revaluation should have taken place in 2015. Small and medium businesses in particular were crying out for it since their rates were based on property values from before the Global Financial Crisis. Instead the revaluation was delayed for 2 years. While the Cameron government claimed that it would “provide certainty” for businesses, most suspected that the desire to keep business rates revenues coming in and to avoid antagonising businesses in rich southern Tory seats (many of whom would have faced rises as property prices bounced back) played far more of a factor in their decision.

Be that as it may, the delayed business rates revaluation finally came into force in April of this year with significant consequences for many firms, particularly pubs. Whilst some premises saw their rateable value decrease, many saw it increase, some by as much as 400%. It was for this reason that the government rushed out an offer of help to those hardest hit at the 11th hour in the form of the “discretionary rate relief” scheme.

Again, here is another U-Turn that I welcome. Despite its’ poor timing and the additional responsibility it laid at the door of local government, it was essential that something was done to mitigate the impact of some of the most extreme changes to business rates.

The discretionary rate relief fund is a pot of money that has been awarded to local authorities for a four year period that is to be used to provide financial support to some of the businesses hardest hit by revaluation. Each local authority can tailor the relief scheme according to local needs and we in Tameside are currently in the process of designing our own local scheme. In allocating our rate relief money we want to ensure that it delivers benefits where they are needed most. To do this we’re asking for your views.

In the long term we perhaps need to look at ways of doing business rates differently, not just to avoid debacles like this in the future but to support our small and medium businesses as well. Is it fair that the amounts businesses have to pay are based off property values that can often be years out of date? Is it right that gigantic multi-nationals like Amazon pay vastly less business rates in proportion to their size than pubs that have to fight to make enough to keep the lights on month to month? I’d rather find a way to heal the wound than slap a sticking plaster over it, but if a sticking plaster is all I’m given I’ll use it to the best of my ability for the people and businesses of Tameside.

The “Business Rates Local Discretionary Relief Scheme” consultation (snappy title, I know) has been running since 18th July and dozens have already had their say. If you run a business in Tameside, be certain to get your views in before the consultation closes on 15th August. The consultation can be found online at www.tameside.gov.uk/business-rates-consultation. Please also encourage anybody you know to make their views known too. Together we can adapt to these business rates changes and ensure that Tameside remains a great place to do business.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


A Victory for Workers Everywhere

Wednesday, 02 August 2017


Today I’m going to take the chance to do something I don’t get to do anywhere near as much as I’d like. In this time of political and economic chaos, I’m going to share with you some genuinely positive news. Last week the UK Supreme Court agreed, unanimously, with a case brought forward by Unison that employment tribunal fees were preventing workers getting access to justice.

Bear with me as I give you a short bit of history. Employment tribunal fees were introduced by the then-Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling (the man who, let’s not forget, is now responsible for betraying the government’s infrastructure promises to the North) in 2013. Charges began at £160 for claims for lost wages or breach of contract and only went up from there. At the top end, workers seeking redress could be expected to pay as much as £1,600 for more serious claims such as unfair dismissal.

The justification at the time was that the fees would transfer costs from taxpayers to those who actually use the services, stop unnecessary claims and encourage earlier settlements. What actually happened is that workers stopped submitting claims altogether while employers, emboldened by the new financial restrictions, started taking fewer cases to settlement than they had previously.   

Thus, even held to the government’s own aims of making savings on employment tribunals, the fee system can only go down as a colossal failure. But there was a far more important and far more sinister consequence. You can have as many rights as you like in theory, but they’re worthless without the ability to exercise them effectively in practice. What’s worse, those who needed access to justice the most – low-paid workers and workers in unstable employment (most of which are women) – were those most likely to be unable to afford the fees demanded. Justice with a price tag attached too often became no justice at all. No wonder the Supreme Court judgement declared tribunal fees unlawful not just in British and EU law, but discriminatory against women as well. 

That judgement is the culmination of over four years of long and painstaking work through the courts by Unison’s legal team. It was a formidable challenge, but they persevered because, as they said themselves, ending tribunal fees was as much about morality as it was legality. It should be noted, before any of the usual suspects try to paint a false picture, that trade unions were not alone in protesting this injustice and celebrating its demise. The acting head of the Law School at Strathclyde University called it “a very good day for access to justice”. Karen Jackson, a lawyer who specialises in disability discrimination cases, stated on the record to the BBC, “I don’t know an employment lawyer who didn’t think it was wrong to have fees”. Even the Liberal Democrats, who waved through the tribunal fees when they were in coalition with the Conservatives, appear to have recanted their past wrongdoings.

So what happens now? The Ministry of Justice have already said that they will stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who have already paid them. It’s estimated that this will cost between £27-32 million. For the government this should serve as a wake-up call that access to basic justice cannot, and will not, come second to saving money. 

A full copy of the Supreme Court judgement can be found here. Good riddance to bad rubbish. 
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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