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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for May 2020

Harnessing the Power of Technology and Communities

Friday, 29 May 2020

The position of Civic Mayor of Tameside is one of our most significant and prestigious roles. For as long as there has been a place called Tameside, there has been a Mayor.

This week the historic lineage of the Civic Mayor and the brave new world of technology were brought together. Tuesday 26th May was the day when we would usually hold our first meeting of Full Council of the new civic year at Guardsman Tony Downes House in Droylsden. However, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and lockdown it would not have been appropriate or responsible to have so many people in one building, no matter how important the occasion. So, with a little bit of help from Skype, Councillor Janet Cooper made history by becoming the first person to accept her new office at a virtual meeting, with no ceremonial robes or physical transfer of the chain. 

 

While she may have become the Mayor online, Councillor Cooper’s impact on the real world has been very real. A complete list of her work and contributions to the borough would be too long to list out here, but since this coronavirus lockdown begun she has helped to set up the Mottram and Hattersley Covid Helpline Group, supplied books to the new Tameside and Longdendale Food Bank at the Grafton Centre in Hyde, provided colouring packs for children for VE Day, and supported the green ribbon campaign for Mental Health Awareness Week. She also joined her Longdendale ward colleague, Councillor Jacqueline Owen, in delivering certificates to residents after the entire district was given a BBC Everyday Hero award.

During her year of office her chosen charities will be Tameside 4 Good, Tameside Young Carers, the Tameside and Glossop Scanner Appeal, and Cascade Baby Bundles. Janet will be ably supported by her partner Mr Dennis Fitzpatrick as Mayor’s Consort, and by Councillor Mike Glover as Deputy Mayor, I have no doubt that Janet will write her own page in the proud history of the office of Civic Mayor of Tameside.

 

The meeting on Tuesday highlighted what I think are two of the most positive reactions to the terrible pandemic in our midst; the way we’ve used technology to continue running as many vital services as possible in extraordinary circumstances, and the way our communities across the borough have rallied together to support each other in these difficult times.

As well as the Full Council on Tuesday, a number of other important committees and meetings have also taken the plunge and gone online. Last week our Speaker’s Panel was hosted via Skype, giving councillors, officers and members of the public the opportunity to work through planning discussions and decisions as usual while maintaining social distancing. Other meetings hosted online so far include the Executive Cabinet, Strategic Commissioning Board, Greater Manchester Pension Fund Management and Advisory Panel, and the Governing Body of Tameside and Glossop CCG. You can view the meetings yourself, both live and for a period of time afterwards, here.

 

Our response to coronavirus in the here and now also continues at pace.  Since this pandemic began, and thanks to the incredible help of our communities and key workers, we’ve made 1,750 emergency food deliveries to 1,570 vulnerable residents in 1,060 households, paid out £39.2 million worth of grants to 3,568 local businesses and supported 35,427 children between Reception and Year 11 to continue their education even as most of the classrooms in our schools remain empty.

After we have defeated this pandemic, and I know we all hope it will be soon, the work to rebuild must start. By harnessing the power of technology and Tameside’s unique community spirit, I am confident that we have been able to both protect our residents while also beginning to plan for the future, putting ourselves in the best position to hit the ground running when the time comes. Thank you to all the people whose hard work and sacrifices have made this possible, and please continue to protect yourself and others while Tameside’s struggle against coronavirus continues.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Austerity in the Time of Coronavirus: A Choice We Can't Afford

Friday, 22 May 2020

If you asked 100 people what the most important service local authorities provide for their residents is I would bet that a decent amount of them would tell you “Adult social care”.
 
Ensuring that our elderly and vulnerable can continue living as full a life as possible, in dignity and comfort, is a responsibility that we take very seriously indeed. It is only right that those who have worked hard and contributed to society all their days are offered a helping hand. I haven’t met a person yet who wouldn’t rather be supported in their own home instead of in a care home whenever possible, and having the adult social care services in place to do that is good for them and good for our National Health Service.
 
However it’s no secret that, in the era of austerity, it is becoming harder and harder for local authorities to carry out many of the functions that our residents expect and depend upon. For the past decade, the government has slashed the funding given to councils to provide vital services and shifted the burden on to local taxpayers to make up the shortfall through council tax bills and precepts. Instead of long-term and sustainable solutions to our funding requirements, councils have had to make do with inadequate sticking plasters. But there is no sticking plaster big enough to cover up the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on local government finances.
 

I wrote in a previous blog that, due to reduced income from council tax payments, business rates receipts and other lost revenue on the one hand, and by massive increases in demand for services on the other, councils up and down the country now face a budget shortfall of over £10 billion. Depending on the duration of the pandemic, it is likely that this figure will go even higher. Since then research has now been released by the Local Government Association showing exactly what this devastating funding gap means for some of our most vital services. Unless the government keeps the promise they made to us at the beginning of the pandemic to provide whatever financial resources are needed to “get through this and come out the other side” we are looking at a 21% cut in Budgets across the board this year alone. It should therefore be of deep concern to all of us that a number of recent statements appear to show that the government is now attempting to back away from their commitments to us.
 
Despite what some may tell you, there will be no easy savings to make and no cuts that will fall in places where they won’t be noticed. Back in 2010 we talked about hard decisions, but in 2020 we will be talking about impossible decisions that will have to be made. The LGA estimates that spending reductions would amount to £1.9 billion from children’s social care, £680 million from public health and £60 million from crime fighting and community safety measures. Other services such as libraries, children’s centres, bin collections, leisure centres, public parks, road safety, gritting and street lighting to mention just a few would also be at risk of sweeping cuts. Perhaps most damaging of all, they would take £3.5 billion out of adult social care services, the equivalent of over 35,938 vulnerable people in the North West losing any care that they would otherwise be entitled to.
 

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic it has been local government, together with our NHS and other key workers, who have been on the front lines of the struggle against this terrible virus. We know that elderly people are at far higher risk of serious illness, or even death, from coronavirus. This has put enormous strain on our adult social care workers, but despite this they have continued to protect both our vulnerable residents and our NHS from being overwhelmed by the pandemic. Local authority public health teams also have unmatched local knowledge and experience to roll out measures such as contact tracing that will no doubt be important in helping us transition safely out of lockdown when the time comes.
 
At a time where council services and public sector workers require support more than ever, we are facing the very real risk of the rug being pulled out from underneath our feet. This cannot be allowed to happen. Along with many other local government Leaders across the country, I have written to the government demanding that they meet their funding obligations to us and our residents in full. We are asking only what was promised to us and what we need to play our full part in the continuing struggle against this terrible pandemic. 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Clarity Is Needed on Lifting the Lockdown

Friday, 15 May 2020


Ask anybody familiar with crisis management what the most important factor is in responding to a major challenge and their reply will probably be “Clarity”. Clarity is what allows organisations and communities to develop clear and effective responses, and guides individuals to understand what they should, and should not, be doing. On the other hand, a lack of clarity can turn what could have being a manageable problem into something more serious. I fear that, as we enter the next stage of the coronavirus pandemic, the lack of clarity we’re seeing at the moment could end up being very costly indeed.

Like many of you, I have been closely following the statements from the Prime Minister and government about their plans to begin easing the current lockdown. There are some parts of the new approach that I support. Allowing unlimited outdoor exercise is a targeted and sensible easing that could improve physical and mental health with little downside if people continue to abide by the social distancing rules. I’m also pleased that, despite the rumours that it would be scaled down, the government has chosen to maintain the current level of support offered by the furloughing scheme until the end of October. While it is an expensive measure, I have no doubt that the human and economic cost from redundancies and businesses failures had it not continued would have been far higher.

However, Prime Minister has also said “Those who cannot work from home should speak to their employer about returning to work”. On this, I believe that he has got it massively, and potentially catastrophically, wrong.

First of all, it confuses much of the guidance around social distancing. We’ve been told that we can only see one person outside our household at a time while staying 2 metres apart, but by the letter of the new return to work guidelines, putting large groups of people in close proximity in an office, building site or public transport is now going to be allowed. The Prime Minister has mentioned that all workplaces will be made safe, but this is far easier said than done and we have been given little information on how he will make this happen. At present, around 4,000 people a day nationwide are still being diagnosed as positive for coronavirus. The true number is likely to be much higher since many areas, including here in Greater Manchester, have only just started to have their capacity for testing expanded. Research also suggests that the course of the virus’ spread across Britain may be up to two weeks behind London, making much of the country more vulnerable to a spike in infections if the lockdown is lifted prematurely.   

But it’s not just that reopening workplaces exposes more people to coronavirus, it’s that some are going to be more exposed than others. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the only people we’ve asked to go to work are our NHS and key workers, those whose jobs have been essential to protecting us from coronavirus and keeping the basics of society running. We’re now asking people who aren’t key workers to return to their jobs, and I wouldn’t blame them for asking why they should be put at increased risk because they don’t have the luxury of being able to work from home. There is serious evidence which shows that among men, construction workers are already twice as likely to die from coronavirus as the average member of the population. Now is not the time to be encouraging anybody to go back into the workplace unless they absolutely have to.

This lockdown has been a challenge for all of us, and the consequences will almost certainly be felt for a long time after this pandemic is defeated. But the health of our people must always come before economic calculations. If the government insists on going ahead with reopening workplaces, they must offer financial support and guidance on making them coronavirus safe, and ensure that any decisions are made with the safety of employees first and foremost on their minds. Anything less carries the risk of setting us down the road to potential disaster and a second wave of this terrible virus. 

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Give Councils Our Fair Share

Wednesday, 06 May 2020


Two weeks ago I wrote about Universal Credit, and how it was an example of the coronavirus pandemic shining a harsh spotlight on economic and social issues which have already existed for a number of years. Today I want to return to that subject with the consequences the pandemic has had for local government finance.

It’s no secret that local government has suffered the brunt of ten years of austerity. Income from council tax makes up just 18% of our current funding, with the majority of the rest coming from the government in the form of Revenue Support Grant and other payments. This money has been cut again and again since 2010, meaning that over the past six years we have had to save £160 million to set the balanced budgets that we are legally required to deliver. This has involved redesigning many of our services, or in some difficult cases, stopping services altogether. We’ve also had to ensure that we maximise what income raising powers we do have in areas such as Council Tax, Business Rates and Social Care. This allowed us to continue delivering vital services to our residents despite the challenges of the age of austerity.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown this delicate balancing act into a tailspin. Councils up and down the country are now facing shortfalls that run into the billions of pounds. This has been caused on the one hand by lost revenues in areas such as council tax payments, parking charges and leisure fees, and on the other hand by a massive spike in demand in areas such as social care and housing rough sleepers. The exact cost will depend on the duration of the pandemic and the lockdown, but research by Newcastle City Council estimates that it could reach up to £10 billion.

This far exceeds £3.2 billion the government has so far committed to help local authorities manage the pandemic. In Tameside’s case, as an average sized council we expect our cost pressures to be approximately £25 million higher this financial year. Our share of the £3.2 billion of extra funding will only cover around 40% of what is needed to balance our income with our outgoings. Worse still, we are hearing worrying signals from the government that they have not yet grasped the scale of the financial disaster that may end up unfolding on their watch. At the beginning of the pandemic we were promised that they would “do whatever is necessary” to secure funding. Now we’ve been told to “not labour under a false impression” that all costs will be covered.

We cannot become complacent now. The government must recommit to providing whatever funds are necessary to Councils to help us overcome this emergency. I appreciate that £10 billion sounds like a lot of money, but it is far less than many of the other important measures that the government has approved, such as the £13.4 billion of NHS debt they have written off, or the £39 billion that the Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated that the furlough scheme will cost.

And in the long run, £10 billion is a far lower cost than the alternatives if the government does not provide the needed support. In the best case we will have to find yet more cuts in vital services that have already been sliced to the bone, affecting our most vulnerable residents and passing even more costs onto a stretched NHS. The worst case scenario will see councils go right to the edge or, in many cases, straight over the edge of bankruptcy.

I have already written to the Prime Minister expressing these concerns, and asking what will be done to fully support local authorities during these most unprecedented of times. The recovery of our communities and our country will depend on the decisions made over the next few weeks. We have come too far now to not do whatever else must be done.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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