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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for August 2020

The Wrong Decision at the Wrong Time

Wednesday, 26 August 2020


In between the Westminster politicians and national institutions we see on TV and the newspapers, and the local authorities and organisations that serve their communities, there exists an entire middle tier of public sector bodies and agencies. Many of them are not particularly well-known, but their work is nonetheless vital to the smooth running of our country. In the continuing struggle against the coronavirus pandemic, one of the most important of these is Public Health England.

Established in 2013 by the coalition government, Public Health England held responsibility for a wide variety of public health duties that compliment or take the pressure off the more traditional services offered by our National Health Service. Much of this was focused on improving our resident’s quality of life and keeping them out of hospitals and GP surgeries in the first place. If you’ve ever looked for advice on losing weight or quitting smoking, the odds are that it was either Public England Health, or an organisation contracted by them, that was providing it. Until last week, when it was announced by the Health Secretary Matt Hancock that Public Health England would be abolished and replaced by the National Institute for Health Protection, a new organisation that will specifically deal with the threat of infectious disease and the national NHS Test and Trace operation.

My first issue with this announcement is the timing. Anybody who has ever been through some kind of organisational restructure, whether in the private or public sector, knows that they always involve a massive amount of disruption as the new way of doing things is bedded in. At the local level, Public Health England’s health protection teams have been an important part of the response to dealing with flare-ups of coronavirus infections. They do not need to be distracted with worries about their jobs at a time when all our energies should be focused on containing the next stage of the pandemic.

 

Furthermore, the reasons for making such a huge change at a critical time for our country remain unclear to me. There have definitely been major shortcomings with some aspects of how the coronavirus pandemic has been handled so far, most notably in the continuing failure to set up a credible test and trace system that protects our residents and gives businesses the confidence to get back up and running again. However, having dealt with these issues for months it is my view that Public Health England is not to blame. Despite having their budget slashed by over £850 million, a 25% cut over the last five years, during the pandemic so far their contact tracers have actually reached 90% of the people on their lists compared to 50% by the private contractors used by the government. The initial decision to base our test and trace system on an app that ended up never seeing the light of day was also a failure created not by Public Health England, but by decisions made in the corridors of power in Westminster. Put it all together, and the disturbing conclusion is that the government is more interested in making Public Health England a scapegoat for their own failures than they are in making the improvements that our test and trace infrastructure desperately needs.

Abolishing Public Health England is the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. While I doubt that the government will change their decision to abolish Public Health England, at the very least they should postpone it until the coronavirus pandemic is well truly and behind us. However, if they insist on ploughing ahead I want to see councils and other local organisations involved in designing its replacement. Instead of one-size-fits-all diktats handed down from Whitehall, we need to harness the power of local health experts who know their area and know what measures will work on the ground. We have already witnessed too much confusion and disruption in the government’s response to the pandemic. Now is not the time to pile on yet more bad decisions.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Answers Needed Over Results Farce

Tuesday, 18 August 2020


Last Thursday, as happens every year, many of our young people took the first step in the rest of their lives as they received their A-Level results. Unfortunately what should have been a day of celebration for many turned into a day of confusion, frustration and despair, as many pupils were awarded grades lower than what they thought they could be and what their teachers believed they would achieve.

It’s necessary to take a moment to explain what happened. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools across the country have been closed for several months and all exams cancelled. In order to provide results for this year, teachers were instead asked what grades they expected their pupils to get. These were then run through a computer programme which ranked pupils by ability and by how well their school or college had performed in exams in recent years. This was done, we were told, to ensure that national results remained consistent with previous years.

This computer programme is what has caused the problems that many faced. While the A-Level results effectively mirrored previous years on a national scale, at the level of the individual many have had their grades unfairly lowered through no fault of their own.  To give just two examples; an extremely bright and hard-working child may have received worse results than they expected because their school’s exam results have been historically poor, or pupils in a school that has improved its performance significantly since last year’s exams would not have this reflected in the grades awarded. It is estimated that over 280,000 A-Level results in England were downgraded by the computer programme, almost 40% of the total of all the exam grades awarded.

To make things even worse it appears that there was some serious inequality in which grades have been affected. Private schools in well-off, affluent parts of the country emerged mostly unscathed, while pupils and schools in more deprived parts of the countries were disproportionately hit.  Head teachers and MPs from every party condemned the results process, and many young people even marched in protest against what they (quite rightly) saw as an attack on their futures.

 

Let’s be clear about what has happened here; the education and career ambitions of tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of young people were put under threat. Not because they underperformed in exams, but because somewhere a computer said “No”.

I am glad that the government has now abandoned this flawed method, and has turned to determining exam grades based on what their teachers predicted their students would get.   Teachers know their pupils best, so their professional judgement is surely the fairest way to decide results in the absence of exams. If this means that exam grades nationally are higher this year, as some in the government appear to be concerned by, then so be it.

This has been a colossal mess. Worse still, it could have very easily been avoided. The Scottish exam results, which came out at the beginning of this month, faced the exact same problem for the exact same reasons. It would have been simple for the government to look at the warning signs in another part of the United Kingdom and make the necessary changes before it was too late. I am also concerned that while A-Level and GCSE results will now be based on teacher’s predictions, the same does not yet appear to be true for BTECs and other vocational qualifications. These are every bit as important as A-Levels, and I support Mayor Andy Burnham’s move to take legal action against the government unless all our young people, no matter what exams they’ve sat, are guaranteed the opportunity to show their true skills and talent. 

Young people are already facing a difficult journey to their future due to the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we should not be adding to their problems with unfair exam results. This is not how a country should be run, and this is not how life-changing decisions should be made.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Fighting Inequality in Greater Manchester

Monday, 10 August 2020



With everything that has gone on in the past week it is easy to forget that there will come a time when we will turn away from the immediate crisis of the pandemic, to the longer struggle of deciding what our economy and society after coronavirus should look like. A poll conducted last month by the strategy consultancy Britain Thinks has revealed that only 12% of people nationally want life to return to normal “exactly as it was”. Instead of trying to turn back the clock, I believed we need to focus our energies on building back a better, kinder and fairer country.

In my role as Lead for Age-Friendly and Equalities in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), I’m delighted to say that we have already taken the first steps in this journey.  Over the past few years, we have brought together representatives from the public, private and voluntary sectors into a number of “Equality Panels” to identify and challenge prejudice wherever it exists in Greater Manchester. Sometimes that prejudice takes the form of open discrimination or hate crime, but other times it can be because the ways we do things does not properly take into account the specific needs of certain groups of people.

These Equality Panels already exist for young people, older people, those with disabilities and members of the LGBT community, but now we are adding three new Panels. The first of these is the Woman and Girl’s Equality Panel, which will be chaired by myself and Pam Smith, the Chief Executive of Stockport Council. Our goal is simple; to make sure that every woman and girl in Greater Manchester has the opportunity to live their best lives. Even at this early stage we have identified a number of areas we need to look closely at. We will work to prevent violence against women and girls, including sexual violence, human trafficking and modern slavery. The Panel will also investigate the obstacles women may face because of their gender when it comes to employment and education in Greater Manchester as well as the health issues, both physical and mental, that may have arisen or been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. Finally, in an area particularly close to my heart, we will offer a helping hand to women who want to become representatives of their communities. I may be the first woman to be elected Leader of Tameside Council, but I have no intention of being the last.

The other two panels will focus on residents of different Races and Faiths. Greater Manchester is one of the most diverse parts of the country, and the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted that action to address the inequalities faced by many is needed now more than ever. We know that residents from our Black, Asian and other ethnic communities have suffered disproportionately from worst symptoms of coronavirus, and I have personally heard stories of some of the appalling abuse they have faced from people who, with no evidence, have blamed them for the recent spike in infection rates in Greater Manchester. The Panel will also begin to collect evidence on how our black, Asian and minority ethnic communities may face discrimination in other areas such as access to health services, education, employment and housing.

You can give your views on what you think the priorities of Race and Faith Equality Panels should be through the GMConsult website here. The GMCA website also has further information and an application form here for residents or organisations who would like a place on the Women and Girl’s Equality Panel. The deadline for both of these is the 16th August, and I would encourage you to get involved if there’s something you think you can contribute. As we begin to think about life after coronavirus, let’s work together to make a real difference in our city region.

Posted by: Executive Leader


New Social Distancing Measures for Greater Manchester

Tuesday, 04 August 2020


Over recent days we have seen a rise in new cases of coronavirus in nine of the ten local authority areas in Greater Manchester, including Tameside. While the levels in Tameside are lower than in some other areas, an increase is still concerning enough for action to be taken.

This has led to the announcement of new social distancing measures to bring the rate of infection back under control. The full guidelines are available from the government’s website here, but the key instructions to follow include not meeting up with people from a different household inside a home or garden, not meeting outdoors in groups of more than six, and to continue hygiene measures such as wearing face covering and thorough hand washing whenever necessary. The Greater Manchester Strategic Coordination Group, which is responsible for bringing together organisations across the city region to organise our joint response to the pandemic, has also declared a “Major Incident”. This will allow us, working in partnership with health services, local authorities and community groups across Tameside and Greater Manchester, to access the resources we need to respond to the ongoing situation as quickly and efficiently as possible.

We knew from the beginning that the coronavirus pandemic was not going to go away quickly, and the reintroduction of some lockdown measures on a local or regional scale was always a possibility. These new rules have been put in place to protect ourselves and those around us, and the more that we stick to them the sooner they will be lifted.

 

While these measures are absolutely necessary, I must also say that I have been disappointed in the way that they’ve been communicated by the government. Any response to an increase in coronavirus infection can only be effective if it is broadcasted quickly and clearly. The announcement of the new guidelines was put out on Twitter at 9pm on Thursday night, with the full details put up online at midnight on the same day. That is not how important messages like this should be publicised, especially as the people who are most likely to be severely affected by coronavirus are also the least likely to get their news from social media. A formal press conference broadcast on TV, radio and online, like the ones we had every day for several months at the height of the pandemic, would have allowed the measures to be explained to a far wider audience. I am also deeply concerned that the lifting of the shielding policy, a number of enhanced measures to protect those considered “extremely clinically vulnerable”, went ahead as scheduled on 1 August. How can we be telling people on the one hand that the rising rate of coronavirus infections requires new social distancing measures, while on the other hand saying that it is safe for those most at risk to end shielding? I echo the calls made by Mayor Andy Burnham and others that the shielding guidance and emergency support such as food deliveries should remain in place in Greater Manchester until the current situation is resolved. We may very well end up counting the cost in lives if not.   

I am so proud of the way that our Tameside communities have responded to the pandemic so far. We have asked for, and you have given us, your commitment. Now I am asking for your patience to adhere to new these guidelines for as long as necessary to prevent any further spread of coronavirus. As we have since the beginning of the lockdown, we will closely monitor the data available to us and update you on any changes as quickly as possible. We will get through this the only way we know how; together.
 

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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