Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for August 2018

Tameside Makes the Grade Again

Thursday, 30 August 2018

It’s that time of year again, and I’m happy to report another positive year of exam results for our young people in Tameside.

This is the second year in which our Key Stage 2 students have sat the new GCSEs, which introduced a more challenging curriculum and a grading system ranging from 1-9, with 4 being a “standard pass” and 5 being a “strong pass”. This means that it’s now possible for us to judge our performance against last year. Standard passes in both English and Maths were achieved by 62% of the borough’s pupils in mainstream schools – the same as last year – with 40% of pupils receiving a strong pass in both subjects, a slight increase from 39% last year. 76% of our pupils achieved a standard pass in English and 68% achieved it in Maths, once again either maintaining or slightly increasing our achievement from last year, which was 74% and 68% for standard passes in English and Maths respectively.

Our A-Level students also did Tameside proud this year, as our three A-Level providers – Ashton Sixth Form College, Audenshaw School and Clarendon Sixth Form – all maintained their 100% pass rate despite the toughening up of the exams since last time round.

These results are a just reward for the dedication and sheer hard work from students and all of those who supported them, including teachers, parents and governors. As is the case every year, there are some schools that deserve to be singled out for specific praise. At A-Level, pupils from Audenshaw School not only reached a 100% pass rate, but 59% of those passes were also high grade passes from A*-C. Audenshaw School pupils also put in an exceptional performance in their GCSE exams as well, with 78% of pupils receiving a standard pass and 54% a strong pass. They join a number of other Tameside schools that went above and beyond at GCSEs this year, including St Thomas More RC College (82% standard passes and 60% strong passes), St Damian’s RC Science College (78% standard passes and 57% strong passes) and Fairfield High School for Girls (78% standard passes and 55% strong passes).

We should remember as well what these results mean to the young people who have sat them. They are now in the best position to move forward on whatever they want to do with their lives, be that further study, seeking an apprenticeship or making their entry into the world of work. Let’s not forget that behind what can measured in letter or number grades are stories of the hopes, dreams and ambitions of individual young men and women. For many of us our school exams are a dim and distant memory, but we must continue to bear the responsibility of doing what needs to be done to make sure everybody sitting theirs now can succeed.

This year’s GCSE and A-Levels results prove that we have not shirked that responsibility in Tameside. That being said, we cannot and will not be content with standing still. I want to see us build on this solid foundation to step up our rate of improvement in the years to come. I also want to see more support from the government. The scandalous damage that austerity has inflicted upon school funding is already well known, and misguided experiments with grammar school expansion and baseline testing in Reception risks inflicting more disruption on a system that is crying out for stability and consolidation.

My congratulations go out to everybody who played a part in making this year’s A-Level and GCSE successes a reality. With your continued help and effort, there is no doubt in my mind that this is just the beginning of a period of sustained improvement and achievement for Tameside’s schools and pupils.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Where Are The Jobs and How Do We Get To Them?

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Think about the times where, for one reason or another, you didn’t take a job. There are plenty of reasons why people might make that decision. Maybe it was because they didn’t feel like they had enough experience. Maybe it was because they already had a job and didn’t think the stress of moving was worth it. But what if there were jobs available, except people were unable to take them because they were literally unable to get to their workplace?

That’s the question that has been asked in the recently released report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), a charity that works to research the causes and solutions for poverty in Britain. Significantly for us here in Tameside, the town of Hattersley was one of the six urban areas that the Foundation has used in the report as a case study, along with Harpurhey in Manchester, Seacroft and Dewsbury Moor in Yorkshire, and Port Glasgow and Castlemilk in Scotland.

Their conclusions should concern anybody that believes that everybody should have access to the jobs market. In many cases the JRF conclude that for many living in low-income neighbours, transport links (or lack of) may do more to keep people out of the jobs market than help them into it. This can be because the increase in cost of transport means that people cannot afford it, or because any transport links to areas of employment are unreliable or, in too many cases, non-existent. The more low-paid or unstable the job (for example, irregular shifts or zero-hours contracts) the worse the issues become. Furthermore many of these jobs are increasingly located outside of city centres or other urban hubs, making getting to them even more difficult.

We can see from their research in Hattersley what this means in practice. It’s true that Hattersley does have a number of local employers, such as Kerry Foods and Tesco. However the major jobs hub for the region, Manchester city centre, takes almost an hour to reach. For comparison, that’s double the length of the average commute for British workers. Other areas of significant employment in Greater Manchester, such as Bury, Oldham, Rochdale and Stockport, also take more than an hour to get to on public transport. The report concludes, contrary to what some might like you to believe, that for many people turning down a job because of the length or expense of the commute is far more often a case of “can’t” than “won’t”. 

What that means is that we need to start thinking about employment far more deeply than saying “There’s 50 jobs in Hattersley”, or “There’s 100 jobs in Denton”. We need to think about whether those jobs pay enough to people to live on after costs for transport are factored in. We need to think about whom those jobs are going to be available to if they have to come in by bus or train. And if we’re letting people down on either of those questions, then we need to decide what to do to fix it. One of ways in which this could be done, which is highlighted in the report, is using the devolved powers granted to Greater Manchester through the Bus Services Act 2017 to improve the availability, reliability and affordability of public transport in our city. We know it can be done if the money and willingness is there, and I will be working with the Mayor and other GM Leaders to make it happen sooner rather than later.

If you want to read the full JRF report yourself, it is available to download for free on their website here. They have done a fantastic job of highlighting some of the challenges we face. It’s down to us to rise up to meet them.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Take Part in the Private Rented Sector Consultation

Thursday, 16 August 2018

I’ve written in the past about housing, and how I believe that one of the most pressing challenges we face in the next few years is ensuring that quality homes are available and affordable for all. If we want to achieve this then the private rented sector, which now consists of one in five households in Britain, absolutely has to be part of the conversation. For too many people, however, the private rented sector remains a place of short-term, unstable accommodation, and lax regulation that allows a minority of rogue landlords to jeopardise both the welfare of their tenants and the reputation of the entire sector.

The case for change is clear, and the government appears to be willing to listen. Since July, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have been inviting views and comments on their consultation for reforming the private rented sector in England (and since housing is a devolved matter in Britain, it is just England that we’re talking about here). The headline proposal in the consultation is increasing the length of what is known as “assured shorthold tenancies”, the six-to-twelve month long contracts which form 80% of the tenancies in the private rented sector. Under the plans in the consultation these will be increased to a minimum of three years, meaning that private rented sector tenants could not be evicted without legal grounds, such as breaking the law or falling into rent arrears, over the course of this period.

That might sound like a radical change, but it would actually bring England closer into line with the rest of the world. In Europe 3 year tenancies are already the norm in places like Spain, and in many countries, such as Germany, Scandinavia and parts of Eastern Europe tenants are protected from eviction without reason no matter how long they’ve lived there. Some control on rent levels, and how much they can increase by, is also the norm in the rest of Europe. This does not usually take the form of a legal “rent cap”, but through means such as limiting the amount that rent can be increased over a certain period (for example, 15-20% over three years in Germany), requiring that rent does not exceed local market levels (Ireland, Czech Republic), or making the landlord and tenant agree on a mutually-acceptable level of increase (Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden).

Interestingly enough, the countries with the largest private rented sectors (1 in 3 households in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark) are also those that tend to have the most comprehensive regulations in place. The English combination of a large but unregulated private rented sector is very much the odd one out, and when you hear some of the stories of the uncertainty and anxiety faced by tenants, you can see why. 29% of private sector tenants have moved three or more times in the last five years, 37% are worried that they may lose their homes at short-notice, and the loss of a private sector tenancy is now the leading cause of homelessness in England. What’s more, the expansion of private rented housing means that many families with children now have tenancies within the sector, often leading to significant disruption as the end of a tenancy usually means not just a change of home, but a change of school as well.

If you’re a tenant, a landlord, or even just somebody with an interest in the issue, I absolutely encourage you to give your views on the consultation here before the deadline of 26th August. For my part, I believe that the plans in the consultation could be an important first step, albeit only a first step, towards reforming the private-rented sector to be fit for purpose for tenants and landlords in England in the 21st century.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


We Need To Talk About Planning

Friday, 10 August 2018


We need to talk about planning. I do appreciate that some may not see this as the most interesting topic of discussion, but it is one that has become more and more important in recent times.

A responsible and responsive planning process makes sure that any development in Tameside happens in the name of the public interest, balancing the many economic, environmental and social benefits and concerns that are involved in any kind of building. It is the main way by which we make sure that the places where we live and work are attractive, vibrant and well-designed.

It would be reasonable to expect that these kinds of decisions, the ones that fundamentally affect Tameside, would be made in Tameside. Unfortunately, the government seems to disagree, with potentially significant consequences for Tameside and many other parts of the country.

In order to explain this I need to dip into the details of planning law for a moment. The issue centres on a concept known as “permitted development”. This is a clause in the planning system that allows work to be carried out without having to apply to the local council for permission. In its original form, it was intended to give a free pass to building alterations that would have little to no impact on the surrounding environment. We’re talking about things like converting a loft into another bedroom, moving a door or window, or building a garden shed.

However, in May of this year, the government sneaked out a consultation that would allow exploratory drilling for fracking under permitted development rules. Whatever your views on the exact dangers posed by fracking are, particularly around water and air pollution, I can’t think of a single person who could argue that there would be “little or no impact” on the environment.

I should mention at this point that, to my knowledge, Tameside has never been identified as an area for potential fracking. Rest assured that I would be completely opposed should it ever become so. That being said, this entire issue is but one part of a far wider debate of just how willing the government seems to be these days to go over the heads of local authorities and communities to drive through their own agenda.

Take another example that is perhaps a little closer to home, at the end of last month the government released the revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework. Under this, local authorities are required to show opportunities for development in their area, along with what will be permitted and where. Nothing particularly wrong with that, but when it comes to the government handing over more powers to local authorities to help drive housebuilding in their area; things like 100% retention of Right to Buy receipts, allowing councils to borrow responsibly to finance social housing, or providing greater support to build the necessary infrastructure, their silence speaks volumes. Worse still, if local authorities do not meet the housing targets imposed from Whitehall, they face the very real threat of the government allowing a free-for-all for developers in their area, running roughshod over agreed sites, quality standards and infrastructure requirements. What we end up with, and we have seen this in many areas, is councils being handed down responsibility by the government, but none of the power or funding that would allow them to fulfil what is being asked of them.

It’s no secret that Britain faces a number of challenges, and Tameside itself is no exception to that fact. Local authorities are more than willing to work with the government to do what is required to help meet those challenges. All we ask is that we are treated as equals whose experience and input is valued, instead of passive deliverers of services or blockages to be worked around. The potential is there, all that is missing is the willingness to do things differently.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Make the Most of the Summer in Tameside

Thursday, 02 August 2018

It’s that time of year again, and there’s definitely more of a buzz around Tameside as the schools break up for the summer holidays. For some, it will be a chance to get a well-deserved rest, especially those who have gone through the trials of SATS, GCSEs or A-Levels. As always, the council and its partners have organised a whole range of events for young people of all ages and their families over the summer. 

Despite the occasional bursts of rain over the past week or so, the weather remains gloriously warm and sunny the rest of the time. So why not make the most of it by coming down to one of Tameside’s many parks to watch our ever-popular Open-Air Theatre shows? 2018’s run of shows already opened at the end of July with The Fabularium’s unique take on “The Town Band of Bremen” in Dukinfield Park, but there’s still several more through the month of August to enjoy, including “Circus Sensible” in Hyde Park on the 14th and “Cyril the Squirrel” in Ryecroft Hall Park on the 21st. The grand finale will be on the 28th August, with a performance of “Pirate Pearl and the Little Blue Monster” at Cedar Park. All of them are completely free of charge and suitable for children aged 3 years and over.

But while spending the summer holidays sitting in the outdoors might work for some, we know that there are other young people who won’t be able to resist getting their hands dirty. That’s why our parks will also host a number of outdoor and craft events run by the council’s Cultural Services. So whether you want to make your own charcoal drawings, leaf art or woodland weaving in Broadbottom, or try out Stone Age themed activities like fossil making, cave painting and axe throwing (yes, you read that correctly) in Hyde Park, the urge to get out and about will definitely be satisfied. As with the theatres in the park, all of these Cultural Service events are free and no pre-booking is required. A complete list can be found on the council’s website here.

But just because school term is over for six weeks doesn’t mean that the learning is over as well. Any young person aged 4-11 is invited to go to one of our libraries to take on the Mischief Makers Summer Reading Challenge. Based on the famous British comic series The Beano, the challenge is simple; read six library books by the end of September to win a wristband, medal, certificate and a chance to get a free annual pass to Active Tameside, including the Sky High Adventure Centre and iPlay Zone. Our volunteer-run Coder Dojos, which offer young people the chance get to grips with coding and programming, will also continue to run as normal on the first Sunday of the month. It doesn’t matter if you’re a computer whizz kid or think a Raspberry Pi is some kind of dessert, all are welcome. However, so our volunteers can get an idea of numbers, even though the event is free we do ask that you book your place first at the Coder Dojo website here.

All of our summer activities are run according to two very basic ideas; that opportunities to have fun and learn do not end at the school gates, and that those opportunities should be open to as many as possible. For more information about what there is to do in Tameside you can check our monthly “What’s On” guide here. So whether you’re a young person with nothing to do or a parent looking to plan out some quality family time, I’m positive that we'll have something to offer you this summer.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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