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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for June 2019

Putting the Power Back in the Northern Powerhouse

Wednesday, 26 June 2019


Let’s take a look at two countries. Country A is one of the richest regions in Northern Europe; Country B contains 5 out of the 10 poorest regions in Northern Europe. Country A has spent £17.6 billion on one piece of rail infrastructure, nine times more money than is being spent on the entire rail infrastructure in Country B put together. One town of 285,000 people in Country A has more private research and development jobs as the whole of Country B, population 15 million.

The numbers are utterly stark, but what makes it even more shocking is that these aren’t two different countries at all. They’re two parts of England, the North and the South. How unequal are we? The former chief civil servant Lord Kerslake, who now chairs a committee on the future of Britain’s economy, has said that the closest parallel between North and South England in the 2010s would be East Germany, a country that suffered almost forty years of dictatorship, and West Germany following the end of the Cold War.

It’s particularly appropriate to highlight this as we recently marked the fifth anniversary of the then-Chancellor George Osborne’s “Northern Powerhouse” speech. It’s easy to write off the Northern Powerhouse, then and now, as an elaborate branding exercise backed up with nothing except hot air. That wouldn’t be entirely fair though. The creation of combined authorities and metro mayors has allowed many parts of the North to have more of a say in decisions. That’s clearly been seen this week, where the Greater Manchester Combined Authority laid out plans to upgrade and renovate our transport network over the next decade, including buses, trams and bikes.

But the fact remains that this progress, significant though it is, has taken place despite, and not because of, support from powers-that-be in Westminster. The current Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry, isn’t allowed to sit in the Cabinet, and the rumour is that upon assuming the office of Prime Minister Theresa May banned any mention of the Northern Powerhouse at all.

More toxic than even this is that all of the work on devolution has been taking place in an atmosphere of savage austerity. This week’s report on the Northern Powerhouse from the IPPR North, the organisation that have probably done the most work to highlight the gap between North and South, makes for grim reading. Between 2009/10 and 2017/18 the North suffered £3.6 billion worth of cuts to public spending, while the South East and the South West together saw an increase of £4.7 billion in real terms. This has meant that since the creation of the Northern Powerhouse in 2014, 200,000 more Northern children are living in poverty, weekly pay has grown by only £12 compared to £19 nationally and 150,000 more jobs pay less than a living wage. Perhaps most worrying of all, despite much of the idea for the Northern Powerhouse being built on improving transport infrastructure, the number of cancelled or significantly late trains on TransPennine Express and Northern Rail franchises has more than doubled from 2.1% to 4.9% of all services. If the success or failure of any political project is judged on lives changed for the better, then it’s clear that we still have quite a way to go.

What we need is a government with policies that put the North first, in the most literal sense of the word. The inequality we face has been decades in the making, and it’s clear now that it will not be solved by piecemeal ideas and policies. We need ambition on a scale of that which created the National Health Service and spearheaded the first wave of devolution. The kind of policies that act as the centrepieces for entire governments, tying in everything that has been done so far and providing the funding to turbo-boost it to as yet unseen levels. The Northern Powerhouse as an end in itself will not be sufficient. It can, and must, be the beginning of something much, much greater.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Protecting Our Pensioners

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Cast your mind back to 2015. In one of their first acts after their victory in the General Election that year, the David Cameron government announced that they would no longer pay for TV licenses for over-75s, transferring responsibility for funding over the BBC. At the height of the age of austerity it was effectively a £745 million cut to our national broadcaster, with no negotiation or consultation with the BBC itself or the public in general.

Four years later, the cut has become largely forgotten until last week, when the BBC announced that the financial pressure to fund universal free TV license for over-75s had become unsustainable. Barring some kind of U-turn or alternative solution, from June next year millions of households will have to start paying £154.50 a year to watch television and access the BBC iPlayer.

The announcement has been met with shock and outrage, a shock and outrage that I share and entirely agree with. We know that older people tend to be heaviest users of television, and many simply do not have £150 a year to spare at a time when pensioner poverty is on the rise once more. I intend to raise the issue both as Leader of Tameside Council and the Lead for Age-Friendly Greater Manchester and Equalities.

But unlike many, I don’t hold the BBC entirely responsible. Anybody familiar with the near-decade of austerity imposed upon the public sector will remember that one of the government’s favourite ways of imposing cuts was to transfer responsibility, but not the funding, for providing services. These stealth cuts allowed the government to avoid responsibility for some of their most damaging acts of austerity. To make the blow doubly bitter, the cut to TV licenses directly contradicts the government’s own election manifesto, which stated that they would “maintain” pensioner benefits, “including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this parliament”. If they were truly sorry for going against their own promises and imposing extra costs on pensioners, they would have put their hand in their pockets to pay for the licenses themselves instead to trying to pass the buck on to the BBC.

The one piece of small print that’s cushioned the blow is that over-75s in receipt of pension credit will continue to receive their TV licenses for free. That, coincidentally, brings me to another bit of news that I found concerning this week. We know that for a variety of reasons many people do not claim all of the money that they are entitled to, and nowhere is this truer than with pensioner benefits. It’s estimated that up to half of all households with pensioners aren’t claiming anything at all, with a further two in ten claiming less than they are able to. This includes Guarantee Credit, which tops up pensioner’s incomes that fall below £163 a week or £248.80 a week for a couple, and Savings Credit, which provides extra money for those who have already saved money for their retirement. While figures for Tameside specifically are not available, it’s estimated that the average unclaimed pension benefit nationally could be as high as £1,058 per person.

Sums like that can be the difference between pensioners living in comfort and struggling, especially if free TV licenses become tied to the receipt of pension credit as well. If you think you’re missing out on pension credit, you can find out more on the gov.uk w
ebsite here or phone 0800 99 1234 to begin the claiming process.

In the longer term, I would like to see the government actively making sure that our elderly residents get the financial support they need and are entitled to. Every time they choose to let our pensioners navigate an extraordinarily complex benefits system by themselves, or choose to sneak out swinging cuts to what they receive, they choose austerity over protecting some of the most vulnerable in our society. This is no way to treat our elderly, and it’s absolutely no way to run a country.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Natural Beauty and Clean Air: Our Plans for Tameside's Environment

Thursday, 13 June 2019

At last month’s meeting of Full Council I said that one of our priorities for the rest of the year would be protecting Tameside’s natural environment. Nestled between the hustle and bustle of Greater Manchester and the serenity and greenspace of the Peak District National Park, Tameside’s unique location provides us with both outstanding natural beauty, and challenges to protecting and preserving it.

Seven months ago we organised the first ever Tameside Green Summit, bringing together residents, businesses and climate experts to discuss how to protect our shared environment and commit to real action. I’m delighted to say that we’re now starting to make good on the pledges we made there, including reducing our carbon footprint by better management and retrofitting of council-owned buildings where possible, and switching our corporate energy contract over to a green supplier. We also set a goal to plant 4,500 trees throughout Tameside in 2019, and with less than half of the year gone we’ve not only met that target but exceeded it by over 1,115.

We’ve also taken the first steps to combat the scourge of micro-plastic pollution in the borough by launching our “Refill” scheme. The principle is simple; businesses throughout Tameside can sign up to become a “Refill station”, offering free tap water to any residents that want it. As well as increasing the availability of quality drinking water, the scheme helps to prevent plastic waste by encouraging people to carry reusable water bottles instead of buying single-use ones. The list of businesses in Tameside that have signed up to the Refill scheme can be found on our website here, and I would encourage you all to take part. Such small changes in lifestyle and consumption, if done by enough people, can make a big difference in our fight to tackle waste and pollution.

It’s particularly important to note this progress as next week is Clean Air Week, the UK’s largest air pollution awareness campaign, and an issue of massive significance for Tameside and Greater Manchester as a whole. While the chimneys and smoke stacks of the Industrial Revolution are a faded memory, vehicle emissions have replaced them as the greatest polluters of our air. Air pollution is believed to contribute to the deaths of 1,200 people a year in Greater Manchester through heart disease, lung cancer, stroke and other ailments, and across Europe it is estimated to cause more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking.

For the past few years in Greater Manchester we’ve been giving a lot of thought into how best to make sure that our air is safe to breathe. The proposals to combat air pollution, produced by the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester, Transport for Greater Manchester and the Mayor Andy Burnham, include; spending £116 million upgrading the city region’s vehicle fleet over the next 4 years, creating the largest clear air zone in the country outside of London, and trebling the size of our electric vehicle charging network. Before we start putting these plans into reality, we want to get your views on them. The public consultation on the GM Clean Air Plan, which runs until the end of the month, is on the Clean Air GM website here. If you want to make sure that the voice of Tameside’s residents and businesses is heard, please visit the consultation and give your views before 30th June.

Despite the great work that we’ve done so far, we know that there is still a lot more to do.  It is my hope that we can use our successes in Tameside and the increased awareness during Clean Air Week as a call to action. Not just to educate ourselves on what we can do as individuals, but also on the power of collective action and what we should be demanding from the government. Let’s make sure that future generations can enjoy the outstanding natural beauty that Tameside has to offer.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Taking Care Of Our Carers

Friday, 07 June 2019

It’s estimated that around 11% of residents in Tameside and Glossop, or just about 27,000 people, have some kind of unpaid caring responsibilities. While the first image that comes to mind when most people hear the word “unpaid care” is probably somebody looking after a frail or infirm elderly family member, the range of carer experiences is much, much broader. Not just family but friends, not just old age but mental health difficulties, disabilities and substance abuse issues.

We know as well that as Tameside and Glossop’s population ages it is likely that not only is the number of people being cared for increase, but older people are likely to take on more caring responsibilities as well. At the moment the number of residents aged 65 and over providing some level of unpaid care in Tameside and Glossop is around 5,600. However in 15 years’ time this is predicted to rise to almost 7,400. Many of our unpaid carers have to juggle their responsibilities with other parts of their life such as jobs, families and sometimes even their own health issues. Every one of these people need, and deserve, as much help and support as we are able to provide.

It’s for this reason that Tameside and Glossop, along with many other parts of the country, is throwing its weight behind Carer’s Week 2019. Running from 10th-16th June, Carer’s Week is an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlights the challenges that unpaid carers face and ensure that their contribution is recognised. We also want to reach out to those who may not identify as carers or who are unaware of the support on offer so they can make themselves known and access any support they may be entitled to.

The official beginning of Carer’s Week 2019 will be at our launch event on Monday, 11am-2pm in The Restaurant at Tameside One – our new building opposite Ashton Market. As well as a buffet lunch put on by the students at Tameside College, we be joined by award-winning cartoonist Tony Husband, who as well as being raised in Hyde also has experience with being a carer himself.

The celebrations will be matched with practical action too, as we will be launching Tameside and Glossop’s latest Joint Carer’s Strategy. Over the next three years, the Strategy will lay out how we will work to make Tameside and Glossop a place where carers, no matter what their age or life circumstances, feel valued, respected and included in decisions around the person they care for. We intend to achieve this by strengthening and developing the links between the numerous services and organisations in Tameside and Glossop that can provide support for carers, including the council, NHS, voluntary and community groups, charities and businesses. We’ve also adopted the Greater Manchester Carer’s Charter, joining with other local authorities and the Mayor to commit to enhance and develop support and opportunities for carers in the city-region level.

If you want to join us at Monday’s launch event, or any of the other events that we’re putting on over Carer’s Week such as reflex therapy, music sessions and skills workshops, you can reserve your place by contacting the Tameside Carer’s Centre at 0161 342 3344, e-mailing at carerscentre@tameside.gov.uk or sending a message to their Facebook page. Unfortunately places are limited so all events must be booked.  

Despite the incredible work they do, we know that too many carers, in Tameside and Glossop and elsewhere, feel alone, invisible and unsupported in the difficult tasks they must carry out. Starting next week, we’re going to change that. We want carers in Tameside and Glossop to feel well informed about what support they are due, and to feel empowered to balance their caring responsibilities while maintaining their own identity and quality of life. I hope you’ll join us in making it happen.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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