Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for June 2018

Paying Tribute to our Armed Forces

Thursday, 28 June 2018

This Saturday, 30th June, Tameside will once again show our thanks to the brave men and women who protect us at home and abroad, as we come together to celebrate Armed Forces Day 2018. This will be the 13th year of the event, which originally began in 2006 as Veteran’s Day. It’s also particularly significant as 2018 marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, although the armistice would not be signed until November and many of the hardest fought battles of that terrible conflict, including Amiens and the Second Battle of the Marne, were still to come this time a century ago.

This year’s Armed Forces Day will begin with a reception at midday hosted by the Civic Mayor, Councillor Denise Ward, for current and former service personnel and families of fallen veterans. From 1pm, as has become tradition, Denton Civic Square and Victoria Park will become the heart of our public celebrations for the day.

As always, there will be something for everybody. Live entertainment will be provided throughout the afternoon by Denton Band, the Dave Egerton Band, TMS Brass, TMS Big Band, the Do-It-Yourself Choir and poet Albert Taylor. There will also be a rolling schedule of exhibitions by Army Reserve units and air, army and sea cadets, a series of re-enactments will also be held alongside displays by military vehicle enthusiast groups, and a short service of remembrance. For children and families, a wide-range of free family-friendly activities are being put on, including a climbing wall, inflatable-assault course, face-painting, balloon-modelling, and other arts and crafts. Refreshments will also be available from the Victoria Park Community Centre. It’s a tremendous event on Tameside’s calendar, and a fantastic chance to have a good afternoon out and show support and appreciation for the sacrifices made on our behalf by the members of our armed forces.

But while celebrating our Armed Forces for one day is all well and good, I’ve always believed that it’s equally important to support them all of the other 364 days of the year as well.

That’s why the Council has worked closely with a number of other organisations, including the Ministry of Defence, the NHS, and the Tameside Armed Services Covenant (TASC) to ensure that our veterans receive the support they need, both when they’re in the armed forces and when they start to integrate back into civilian life. Last month, Tameside was announced as the pilot area for a programme of physical activity sessions to help armed forces veterans stay fit and healthy, boost mental wellbeing and get involved in their local communities. All veterans in Greater Manchester, regardless of whether they’re living in Tameside or not, are invited to take part. We’re also encouraging veterans to remember to inform their GPs of their service. Doing this will allow them to access your full medical documentation for the Ministry of Defence, entitling you to priority access to NHS care for conditions related to your time with the armed forces, and specifically-targeted services such as prosthetics and mental health care. The TASC also produces a free bi-annual newsletter, “Signal”, containing articles and information about upcoming events that may be of interest to veterans, their families and others who might want to get involved.

If you want more information about the Tameside Armed Services Covenant and the work that they do, you can visit their website here. It is my intention to make Tameside the best place in Britain for looking after veterans and their families, not just on Armed Forces Day but every day. With your help, I’m confident we’ll be able to do just that.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


A Great Year for Ashton Old Baths

Friday, 22 June 2018


This Thursday I had the pleasure of joining colleagues, stakeholders and budding entrepreneurs at Ashton Old Baths, to celebrate the first anniversary of the reopening of the famous building.  

The history contained within the walls of Tameside’s most famous landmark is familiar to most people living in the borough. The Ashton Old Baths were originally built as a response to a report in 1843 about the poor sanitary conditions in the town. Designed by Henry Paul and George Robinson, and opened to the public in 1870, they were a public hygiene facility unlike anything the UK had seen before that time.

With a pool 100 feet long and 40 feet wide, with a capacity of over 120,000 gallons of water, it was a bold statement of civic pride when Tameside and the surrounding areas formed the beating heart of the new industrial society. The Ashton Old Baths served the town well, remaining in use for over a century for both hygiene and leisure purposes until their closure in 1975. Even today, residents of our borough over a certain age still have fond memories of their childhood trips to the baths.

While that time has long since passed, we could not and would not allow such an iconic piece of our local history to crumble away to nothing. That’s why in 2013, 38 years after their closure, Tameside Council got together with the previous owners of the building, the European Regional Development Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund to come up with a plan to resurrect the Baths for the 21st century.

While the restoration work included extensive repairs and renovations, we made the decision early on that the exterior of the building must remain intact. To that end, the office space was contained within a three-level pod built inside the structure; a process that many described as like building a ship inside a bottle. Everything from materials to machinery was brought in through the main doorway to be assembled on site. The restoration was shortlisted for the prestigious Historic England Angel Awards in the category of ‘Best Rescue of a Heritage Site’, the Architects’ Journal Retrofit Awards and the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce Building of the Year. It has also been named as a key asset for the city region in the Greater Manchester Digital Strategy.

Now operated by specialist business incubation experts Oxford Innovation, in collaboration with Tameside Council, the new Ashton Old Baths has assumed its rightful place as the jewel in the crown of our pioneering digital strategy. Just as the cotton mills brought jobs, skills and prosperity to our borough two centuries ago, our investment in digital skills and infrastructure will grow and attract businesses in the creative and technology sectors. Hand-in-hand with this is our project to transform skills and learning provision in the borough, providing young people with the education, careers advice and opportunities they need to thrive in the high-tech economy.

None of this would have been possible without the dedication and commitment of the businesses that now call this great building home. Ranging from event management company ZestME, to engineer consultancy Welman Group, low-calorie alcohol producers SkinnyBrands, and the aspiring entrepreneurs of the Digital Dozen initiative, they have filled the new office space to capacity and created over 70 new jobs. The Old Baths also contains a mental health resilience hub, opened by HRH Prince Harry, for those affected by the horrific bombing in Manchester last year.

During the course of the evening, those in attendance had the opportunity to tour the building and hear about the restoration process from the people who helped make it happen. A number of our tenant entrepreneurs were also on hand to explain how the Ashton Old Baths has helped them realise their ambitions for their businesses.

As somebody who has closely followed the renovation of the Ashton Old Baths from its earliest days, I’m delighted to see how the grand old building has been given a new purpose and lease of life. Nor are our plans by any means complete, as we are currently in advanced planning to develop an Annex to the main building, which will include a data centre and space for 75 more people. My thanks go out to everybody who spent their Thursday evening celebrating Tameside’s past, present and future with us.   

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Saving the Great British High Street

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

What do the following big high street brands have in common; Mothercare, Poundworld and House of Fraser? The answer is that they’ve all announced stores closures and job losses this month, with over 400 shops and 118,000 workers at risk. That isn’t even the worst of it. If you go further back this year, the list of businesses cutting down on stores and jobs reads like a who’s-who of high street fixtures, including Marks & Spencer, Tesco’s, Carphone Warehouse, Carpet Right and New Look. There have also been over 2,000 bank closures since 2015, and at the end of February, Maplin and Toys R’ Us went into administration on the same day. No matter where you look, it’s hard to shake off the impression that our town centres and high streets are under pressure unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

It’s an impression that the numbers seem to back up as well. While figures for 2018 are not available yet, research by the Local Data Company (LDC) of high streets in 500 towns in the UK suggests that 16 shops a day closed for a total of 5,855 store closures altogether, compared to only 11 new shops a day opening. Worse still, ask ten different experts about what might be causing it, and you’ll get ten different answers. It could be that people with frozen or falling wages are tightening their belts and putting what money they have towards the basics. It could be that people still have money but are choosing to spend it or bank it online instead. It could be the government charging too much in business rates or landlords charging too much in rent. It could be all of the above, or perhaps none of them.

What is clear is that something needs to be done. There is an importance and a value to the British high street that cannot be measured in money and property space. It’s a place where people, no matter what their age or culture, come together and share activities, experiences and stories. There is nothing more likely to raise pride in a city or town than a busy and vibrant high street, and there’s nothing more likely to put people off than row after row of boarded up or abandoned storefronts.

So what can be done, especially in places that don’t have the advantage of being major cities or economic hubs? While the LDC report paints a grim picture in general, it also highlights that certain sectors, such as barbers, hairdressers, cafes, restaurants and beauty salons, have thrived despite the circumstances. All these success stories have two things in common; they are as much about the experience as they are about whatever you’re buying, and they offer products and services that cannot be offered online. As the big brands withdraw from the high street, space also appears to have opened up for smaller, independent retailers, with the North West in particular being a hot spot for that kind of growth.

It’s these trends, away from monolithic shopping centres and consumerism, and towards smaller retailers and experiences, that we’ve sought to capitalise on in our plans for Tameside. That includes the progress we’re currently making on the Stalybridge Town Centre Challenge, and the continuation of the Vision Tameside project in Ashton. Upon completion, both will act as catalysts for further investment and regeneration in their respective towns. I’d also like to see the government fundamentally look at business rates and the difficulties that some businesses have in finding premises at an affordable rent, ensuring that small and independent businesses receive every helping hand they can get. Our high streets are the beating hearts of our communities, it’s time they were given the care and investment that they deserve.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Northern Rail: The End of the Line

Tuesday, 05 June 2018


The sad state of our railways was highlighted yet again at the start of this week as Northern Rail, responding to unprecedented disruption and cancellations on their lines, announced the suspension of 165 daily services – 6% of all of the trains running in the North. This measure was carried out, as highlighted by Mayor Andy Burnham, with the blessing of the Department of Transport and without any approval, consultation or compensation of the commuters it affected.

The triggering cause of the crisis appears to have been a change in service timetables across the country last month, combined with staffing shortages that can no longer be plugged by more overtime. Anybody who has ever taken a Northern Rail train before, however, knows that there have been issues with their services for a long time. There are very few who use the railways in the North on a daily basis that don’t have their own horror stories about services being delayed, overcrowded, or just plain cancelled. On one day alone, 18th May, the “Northern Fail” app, which tracks Northern Rail’s performance across the network, logged 117 fully cancelled trains, 63 part cancelled and 5 running with reduced carriages.

Let’s be clear as well, behind those numbers and figures is a very real human cost. There have been people who have had to move jobs because the trains they relied on consistently failed to get them to work on time. There have been people for whom being forced to sit in a hot, overcrowded carriage day after day eventually took a serious toll on their physical and mental health. There have been families and businesses that have endured massive strains as commutes that should take half an hour or so at most start taking two or three hours instead. As a regular commuter on Northern Rail from Hyde Central to Manchester Piccadilly, I’ve seen first-hand just how dreadful the service can be, as well as the unnecessary suffering and frustration it can inflict on people who have no choice but to take what is offered.

I think there’s something else at work here as well. Ask anybody standing on a platform at Manchester Piccadilly, Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge, Flowery Field, Guide Bridge or any other train station in the Tameside, Greater Manchester, or indeed in the North of England, and they would be able to give you chapter and verse about exactly what it’s like to rely on public transport in this part of the country. At first you wonder why anybody with the power to make the big decisions hasn’t asked for their opinion, and then you remember. The Transport Secretary is a Surrey MP, the Department for Transport and Network Rail are based in London, and Deutsch-Bahn, the company that ultimately runs the Northern Rail franchise, is even further away in Berlin. Decisions about our transport infrastructure are made by faraway politicians and unaccountable private companies, most of who don’t know what the North needs and have never bothered to ask anybody that might have been able to tell them. Is it any wonder that we are where we are now?

It’s clear in my mind that a few things need to happen. I echo the calls from Andy Burnham for an official investigation into what has happened and how we can fix it. I also firmly believe that if Northern Rail are found to be in breach of their franchise commitments and cannot come up with a satisfactory improvement plan, then the franchise should be stripped from them and brought back into public control, as has happened recently with the East Coast route. Finally, but perhaps most importantly of all, I want the people of Tameside, Greater Manchester and the North to have more of a say on the future of their own services.

We’re not asking for the world; we’re just asking for trains that get people to where they need to be, on time and with a basic level of comfort.  Surely, in the sixth largest economy in the world, that isn’t too much to ask?
 

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Welfare That Works for Everybody

Friday, 01 June 2018


Almost half a decade ago now, Tameside became one of the first parts of Britain to pilot the new Universal Credit benefit system. Our conclusion, then and now, was clear. Despite some positive elements on paper, most notably the simplification of an incredibly complex system of benefits and entitlements, the implementation of Universal Credit was broken almost beyond repair, and that, far from helping people back onto their feet and into work, it often drove people further into poverty and away from the jobs market entirely.

Both then and now, our findings and concerns were ignored by the government, who chose to plough on ahead regardless. All through that time, the evidence that our current benefits system isn’t fit for purpose has been growing and growing. Now, a new report seeks to show just exactly what kind of mess our social safety net is in, and that a different approach is urgently needed.

Supported with a grant by the Economic and Social Research Council, with contributions from universities in Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Sheffield and York, the report gathers together evidence from almost 700 participants, stakeholders and service users from across the UK over a five-year period. Nobody, anywhere, has conducted research on that many people for that amount of time before. Their question was simple, “Does the current system of welfare conditionality (sanctions, support etc.) help people get off benefits and back into work?”

The answer is a resounding “No”. Their final findings conclude, and I think it’s worth quoting this in full, that “Welfare conditionality within the social security system is largely ineffective in facilitating people’s entry into or progression within the paid labour market over time”. On benefit sanctions, the report goes even further, stating that “Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek, or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes”. Where people do find employment, it is more likely to be temporary, low-paid employment as opposed to anything that can lift them out of poverty in the long term. Put simply, not only is the current welfare system needlessly cruel, it also actively works against the very goal it’s supposed to achieve.  

No wonder that a majority of service users found that the welfare system in its current form seemed to be more interested in “looking for excuses” to impose sanctions than supporting them into employment. So, if the current way we’re doing things doesn’t work, then what’s the alternative? In a few isolated cases, service users who received personalised employment support, backed up by appropriate high-quality skills training, could achieve some quite remarkable turnarounds. The report highlights one particular example of a man who had lost his business, his family and his home to a severe drug addiction, who eventually managed to find a new job and live independently again. He credits his success almost entirely to his Job Centre adviser, who persisted with offering him positive and personalised support. On several occasions, rather than imposing sanctions, the adviser chose to instead to work with him to help address the root causes of any breach of conditions.

This, the report suggests, provides a way forward. Stop treating people like case numbers, who need to be forced into compliance with sanctions and conditions, and start treating them like individuals who may need different levels and types of assistance. Make sure that the support is there to turn the search for work into something that happens *with* jobseekers, as opposed to something that happens *to* them.

Since we took part in the Universal Credit pilot we have been looking at ways to make this happen, most notably through the “Advice Tameside” website, which brings together the council and partners to give residents a one-stop shop for advice on applying for Universal Credit and other work and life skills. I therefore wholeheartedly support this report and its recommendations for a welfare system that is both more humane and more effective, and sincerely encourage the government to do the same on a national level.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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