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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for July 2020

Full Council: Living with Covid-19 and building back better

Thursday, 23 July 2020

This Tuesday we held our summer meeting of Full Council, the second of these meetings to be held completely virtually due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The meeting heard from the new Civic Mayor of Tameside, Cllr Janet Cooper, who made the first ever virtual Mayor’s announcements. Despite the current restrictions she has been busy representing Tameside, including at the memorial service for victims of Covid-19 at Manchester Cathedral. I would also add thanks to Cllr Leigh Drennan for his service and commitment to the role over the past year.

I think it would be fair to say that when we made our plans for 2020, nobody would have expected things to turn out as they have. But once again, the solidarity and courage of Tameside’s communities has shone through. That includes our key workers who kept our health and social care running, to the council officers who kept performing the often unglamorous but necessary jobs to keep our borough running, to the volunteers who organised emergency support to those most in need. Their tireless efforts have carried us through the worst of the pandemic, and I really cannot thank them enough.

I only wish that this had been matched by a helping hand from central government, but as I made clear at Full Council, I have a duty to say that I have been left disappointed and frustrated by their action, or lack of in many cases. In comparison the response in other countries in Europe and Asia, we have fallen behind too often in areas such as provision of PPE and setting up an effective test and trace system. The cost may end up being counted in thousands of lives lost in our hospitals, in our care homes and in our communities. 

As you might expect, the motions discussed at the Full Council meeting largely focused on the next steps to rebuild our economy and society after the coronavirus pandemic. The first, moved by Councillor Oliver Ryan, reemphasised the financial challenges faced by councils up and down the country. While the government has provided some additional funding, amounting to approximately £7.7 million for the Council, the latest findings from the Local Government Association show at least £6 billion more may be required across the local government sector from the impact of the pandemic alone. The motion calls upon the government to provide the necessary funding not just to close this gap, but to also provide our key workers with the improvements in pay and working conditions that they deserve. The motion was unanimously carried with support from all councillors.

The second motion, moved so emotionally and bravely by Councillor Eleanor Willis, commits us to cracking down on this scourge of domestic abuse in Tameside. One of the most troubling consequences of the lockdown is that the police in England and Wales have recorded an 8% increase in these crimes compared with the same period last year. This has translated into a rise of emergency calls to emergency helplines that has gone as high as 300% at times, dramatic increases in internet searches for support for those affected by violence and, in the most horrific cases, higher numbers of murders. There are a wide range of organisations and council services that work with local residents affected by domestic abuse, and we have called upon the government to build on the recent passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill through Parliament by providing the sustainable funding that they need to keep doing this vital work. We also want to see the protections of the Act extended to children and migrant women, and the Council will continue working with our partners in the city region to prosecute and, if possible, rehabilitate offenders. The motion was also carried unanimously with full support from all councillors.

Finally, while our monitoring data suggests that the spread of coronavirus has been contained for the moment, the threat of infection, and even death, still remains very real. I would ask you to keep taking all necessary precautions, including wearing face coverings in public and in shops, avoiding large crowds of people and practicing good hygiene at all times as well as observing social distancing. Rest assured that we will not hesitate to take whatever action is necessary to keep protecting residents and businesses in the borough.

Posted by: Executive Leader


More Ambition Needed to Build the Post-Coronavirus Future

Tuesday, 14 July 2020


Last week in the House of Commons, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a summer financial statement to begin to address the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown. While not a proper Budget it nevertheless contains up to £30 billion of new financial measures.

That would be a substantial amount of money in normal times, but it is actually quite small in comparison to what similar countries such as Germany (4 times larger) and Japan (20 times larger) have announced in terms of economic stimulus. That being said, I want to start by saying that the statement contains a number of measures that I agree with. The funding of schemes to help young people into jobs correctly recognises that those at the beginning of their working lives are more likely to be hit by the economic consequences of the pandemic. VAT cuts and voucher schemes for the restaurant, leisure and hospitality sectors will also provide a boost to those businesses that have borne the brunt of the lockdown.

However I am disappointed that high-street retail, which has been severely hit as well, was barely mentioned. I also have serious concerns about the decision to re-impose sanctions for Universal Credit claimants. Every piece of independent research has shown that the current regime all too often drives people into dire financial straits and away from the jobs market entirely. At a time when unemployment is predicted to rise sharply, it’s an unnecessary and counterproductive move, driven more by politics as opposed to what jobseekers need.

Ultimately the summer statement has to be placed in a broader context, and it is in these areas that I have questions that the Chancellor has not yet addressed. Since this economic crisis has largely been caused by a massive drop in demand for goods and services, a recovery will only be possible when people have the confidence to once again go out to shop, eat and drink.
 

Despite this, the government s “test and trace” system to detect and prevent the spread of new coronavirus infections remains, in the words of the British Medical Journal, “too slow and fundamentally flawed” compared to systems in other countries throughout Europe and Asia. Where data on outbreaks does exist, it can take weeks before it is shared with local authorities and other organisations that have the knowledge and expertise on the ground to take action. The reintroduction of lockdown measures in Leicester at the end of last month shows the weakness of our current approach. Throwing all the money in the world at our shops and restaurants isn’t going to make a bit of difference if their customers can’t or won’t leave home.

The summer statement also leaves unanswered the big questions about what kind of economy and society we want to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. This is a golden opportunity to not just return to the way things were before, but to build back better.  We know that our residents want more funding for the NHS, better treatment and pay for our key workers, and more investment in towns and communities outside of London.  After a decade of grinding austerity now is the time to do things differently, and local government can play a vital role if they are given the money and authority to deliver improvements where they are needed most in jobs, education and training, infrastructure and environment. 

The decisions that will be made in the next six months have the potential to make or break the UK for years to come. In that light the summer statement is an encouraging first step, but anything that comes next must be much broader in its scope and ambition. Not only do we need to secure people’s health during this pandemic, we need to secure their future after the pandemic. The history of our country has shown that time and again our greatest triumphs have come after our gravest crisis. Let’s make sure that coronavirus is remembered in the same way. 
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


The Damage of the Austerity Decade

Friday, 10 July 2020


One of the themes I keep coming back to in these blogs is the impact of ten years of austerity on local authorities, especially those in the North of England. Since 2010, as a result of a series of political, deliberate decisions and choices made by coalition and Conservative governments, the ability of councils to carry out basic functions such as bin collections, adult social care and provision of libraries (to name but a few) has been significantly diminished. Sometimes that has taken the form of direct cuts to our budgets while in other cases, such as with council tax and the adult social care precept, the government has shifted the financial burden onto local taxpayers instead of providing the money directly.

Now a new report, released last month by the influential Manchester-based Institute for Public Policy Research North (IPPR North) lays bare the true scale of the damage wrought by the austerity decade. From 2010 to 2019, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the Whitehall department responsible for supporting and overseeing councils across the country, slashed its spending by 86%. This translated into £278.53 less being spent on local government per person in England, a fall of 13%. Like many of the cuts, this fell harder in the North of England where local government spending fell by 20%, equal to £346.94 per person. The same trend can be seen in cuts to public sector jobs, which fell by 19% in the North compared to 16% in England, and investment spending, which fell in the North to 29% in 2010 to 25% in 2019 while it actually rose from 29% to 37% between the same period in London and the South East.

 

Behind these economic facts and figures lies a truly appalling human cost.

It can be seen from the first stage of life in the slow erosion of opportunity for our children and young people. 200,000 more children in the North now live in poverty since the beginning of austerity, and 4,580 children in the North West are living in temporary or emergency accommodation in 2019, a scarcely believable 402% increase from 910 in 2009.

When those children grow up, it can be seen in the shortage in growth of high-quality jobs. The kind of jobs that would provide them with training, career progression or even a wage that lets them keep a roof over their head and food on the table.

And finally, when they grow older, it can be seen in the increase in elderly and vulnerable residents forced to stay in hospital for longer than they need to because adult social care services do not have the capacity to look after them at home.

Our welfare system was created from the dream that people would be looked after “from cradle to grave”, but for many now the reality is one of deprivation and neglect.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that for too long those at the highest levels of national government have known the cost of everything but the value of nothing. There can be no going back to the dark days of the austerity decade. The report concludes, and I fully agree, that money spent in helping people and places to realise their potential is not a liability, but an investment that will pay itself back money times over. Instead of continual rhetoric on “levelling up”, the North needs the funding and the power to build a new future with economic fairness and environmental sustainability at its very heart.

If we’d done this back in 2010 instead of pursuing the false logic of austerity, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have not only been in a far better position to confront the coronavirus pandemic but we would be a richer and, most importantly, a healthier and kinder country. We cannot change the past, but we can and must make the right choices now to not make repeat those mistakes and secure a better future.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Tameside Stands with Our Armed Forces

Friday, 03 July 2020

Around this point in the summer would be the time where we would be enjoying some of the biggest annual cultural events on Tameside’s calendar. Unfortunately the ongoing struggle against coronavirus means that the vast majority of public outdoor gatherings have had to be postponed to contain the spread of the pandemic. While these precautions have been absolutely necessary, thanks to the hard work and creativity of our residents and communities we’ve been able to channel the spirit of many of these events in a different way.

Last month saw people take part in a virtual Tour of Tameside to raise money for the Running Bee Foundation, which fund events across the North West to promote health and wellbeing as well as the fight against child obesity. Participants completed the four stages of the Tour in their own time in a setting of their choosing, paying strict attention to social distancing guidelines throughout. While I hope that the Tour can return to its usual format next year, I think it’s fair to say that 2020’s virtual edition will be remembered fondly by many.
 

The same has been true with Armed Forces Day, our yearly celebration of the brave men and women who have defended our country throughout history and up to the present day. In 2020, this also includes the armed forces personnel that have been involved in the response to coronavirus, from helping to build the Nightingale Hospital in Manchester to delivering essential supplies to vulnerable residents Since our usual all day family entertainment in Victoria Park in Denton was no longer an option, we encouraged people to turn to the internet to get involved and show their support. Using the tagline #SaluteOurForces, the entire country paid tribute to the armed forces by sending photos and videos of themselves, their friends and their colleagues saluting on social media. The Armed Forces Day website even provided handy guides on how to make sure you’re saluting properly.

For Tameside, this Armed Forces Day gave us particular cause for celebration as we found out that local veteran James Kirk, who recently turned 100, will join the very select list of foreigners awarded the Legion d’Honneur, the French equivalent of the Victoria or George Cross. A veteran of the Second World War, his journey after volunteering for the Royal Navy in 1941 took him from the coast of Kenya to the beaches of D-Day. Tameside Council and the Tameside Armed Service Community are currently arranging for the medal to be formally presented to him by the French Consul when it is safe to do so.

 
However, as I’ve said before, while we offer our full support to Armed Forces Day we are ultimately judged by how we treat our armed forces personnel and veterans for the other 364 days of the year. Since 2012 Tameside Council has been a proud signatory of the Armed Forces Covenant, which commits us to making sure that none of the 7,500 armed forces veterans in the borough lose out when it comes to accessing public services. It is a promise that we have lived up to. To give you just one example of what this means in practice, I’m proud of the fact that we have no armed forces veterans on the social housing list or in emergency or temporary accommodation, and we haven’t for quite some time. We have also received the “Gold Award” from the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme, the highest possible accolade for organisations which align their values with the Armed Forces Covenant.

My thanks go out to everybody that took part in the Armed Forces Day celebrations. You’ve proven that, even in the midst of this terrible coronavirus, Tameside’s community spirit has not wavered. I pledge that we will continue working to make Tameside the best place in Britain for looking after armed forces veterans and their families, on Armed Forces Day and every day after that.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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