Executive Leader Cllr Kieran Quinn

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Councillor Kieran Quinn, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for November 2017

Working Together to End Homelessness

Friday, 24 November 2017

The housing crisis is a topic that comes up on this blog frequently, and for good reason. There are in this country a large and growing number of people who can no longer afford to put a decent quality roof over their head. The answer has always been “Build more homes”, however I will be the first to admit that it is often not that simple. Even if, by some miracle, we could find the political will and the funding to start building all the homes that Britain needs tomorrow, it would take time for them to be completed. There are people out there who need our help now, and they need that help within the housing system that we have now. That why schemes like “Help to Rent”, supported by housing charity Crisis, have such an important role to play.

The concept is simple. There are three ways in which most people in Britain access housing; buying a house, renting from a local authority or housing association, or renting from a private landlord. For many of the most vulnerable, in particular young or single people, buying a house is not an option and they will often find themselves at the bottom of most council house waiting lists. That leaves the private rented sector. However, even here there are significant barriers to entry. Prohibitively expensive deposits, rent and fees are combined with reluctance by many landlords to rent to vulnerable tenants. Crisis’ polling has shown that 55% of landlords in the private rented sector are unwilling to let to tenants in receipt of housing benefits or Universal Credit, and over 80% are reluctant to rent to homeless people.

Help to Rent projects provide help to both tenants and landlords to increase secure and sustainable tenancies in the private rented sector. For tenants, Help to Rent offers pre-tenancy training and ongoing support through the entire period of their tenancy. For landlords, Help to Rent provides a single named point of contact for any issues, written guarantees in place of direct cash deposits and far lower fees than those charged by private letting agents. Specialised Help to Rent workers can also help to build good relationships between landlords and their tenants, and lend their expertise towards helping all parties navigate through Universal Credit and other benefits.

With the passing of the Homelessness Reduction Act in the spring, local authorities now have a legal duty to prevent and address homelessness in their area. In the absence of any massive programs of housebuilding, Help to Rent projects have the potential to be one of the most effective weapons in our armoury to achieve this. They work with the resources we already have, they are supported by bodies like Crisis, the National Landlords Association and the Residential Landlord Association, and they have a proven track record of success. A similar scheme called the Private Rented Sector Access Programme, run by Crisis with government funding from 2010-14, created over 8,000 tenancies for ex-homeless people, 90% of which lasted over six months. As well as helping to get vulnerable people into housing, the schemes also saved more than £13 million that would have otherwise been spent on non-housing costs.

I’m so convinced about Help to Rent schemes that I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week asking that he throw £31 million of financial firepower behind the schemes through the Autumn Budget. That he has not heeded this request can only go down as a missed opportunity, but I will continue to lobby the government to commit further resources and offer support any Help to Rent schemes that are set up within Tameside. All of us agree that ending homelessness is a worthy goal. Let’s make sure we’re using every tool we can to achieve it.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


The Wrong Budget, At The Wrong Time

Thursday, 23 November 2017


Yesterday the Chancellor presented the 2017 Budget, outlining the government financial priorities and policies for the next year. As with every Budget, it’ll take a week or so for the individual government departments to spell out what it means in practice, and I’ll comment some more then. However, in the meantime there’s enough information out for me to give a more general opinion. Put bluntly, I was expecting a damp squib, and I got it.

Let’s mention the good news first, or at least what little there is of it. The announcement of a £1.7 billion “Transforming Cities” fund to improve connectivity between cities and regions outside of London is welcome. Greater Manchester is guaranteed at least £273 million of the pot, and while it’s a lot less than I would have liked to see any evidence that the “Northern Powerhouse” isn‘t dead and buried is an encouraging sign. We’re also beginning to see action being taken on homelessness, with Greater Manchester benefitting from a share of a £28 million pilot to help persistent rough sleepers. Tameside is also predicted to receive an extra £210,000 to pay for equipment for disabled people, and a further £225,000 into our anti-pothole fund. All this is welcome, but on the other hand I’m disappointed that the government did not take the chance to confirm that Greater Manchester will receive the £17 million in financial support promised to us after the horrific terrorist attack in May. You can be assured that we will continue to chase the government to deliver on what they pledged to us.

That’s only the start of the bad news though. Read into this how you will, but the most devastating Budget bombshell was dropped even before the ink was dry on its pages. The Office for Budget Responsibility, which is responsible for financial forecasting of the British economy, admitted that the figure of 2.2% it had used to measure annual productivity increases for the past few years was wishful thinking, and that a revised figure of 1.2% was closer to the mark. That might sound like a technical point, but it has a massive knock-on effect for the rest of the economy. It means that the government’s deficit reduction targets are even more of a pipe dream than they were before, but more importantly, it also means that we’re now staring down the barrel of the longest and hardest fall in living standards since records began. The economics editor of the Financial Times described it as “horrible”, and I’d argue that he’s being too polite.  

That only makes everything I said at the start of the week even more important, but in all of the areas I mentioned; housing, benefits, services, the complacency and lack of ambition sown in the Budget is utterly mind-boggling. In housing, the surprise “rabbit out of the hat” policy that has become traditional on Budget Day was the abolition of stamp duty for first-time buyers. That might sound generous, but what we’ve seen with years of attempts to boost homeownership by increasing demand (through increasing people’s ability to pay) is that unless it is matched by an increase in the supply of housing any gains are very quickly lost through house prices going up in response. Austerity is still alive and well when it comes to benefits as well. Measures have been taken to curb the worst excesses of Universal Credit by reducing the waiting time and tweaking housing benefit and advance payments. However, major cuts to working-age benefits during a period of relatively high inflation will still go ahead, leaving the poorest households £715 a year worse off over the next 5 years. The Budget also had little to say on the crisis in adult social care and the Public Sector Pay Cap for local government workers. Adult social care services are not just essential to help elderly people live in dignity and comfort; they reduce pressure on the NHS by preventing unnecessary hospital appointments. It is more important than ever that these services, and the hard working people who run them, are given the support they so desperately require.

In another, better world, yesterday’s Budget could perhaps be seen as a decent bit of “steady as she goes” economics, but “steady as she goes” is the absolute worst thing to do when your ship is heading towards the rocks. The government has had their chance to do what needs to be done to reverse austerity and kick-start growth again. Their actions have shown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they don’t have the stomach for it.

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UPDATE: Over the weekend it appears that the government has indeed committed to providing, in full, the financial support promised to Greater Manchester after the terrorist attack in May.
 
A task force set up within the Cabinet Office will co-ordinate the calculation and processing of payments, which are estimated to amount to £17.6 million for costs already incurred and an additional £10.4 in future expenditure.
 
While I still question why the government was dragging its heels over payments in the first place, I am happy that they have corrected their mistake and look forward to working with them to make sure that we receive every penny of what was promised.



 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Countdown to Budget Day

Monday, 20 November 2017


 
Wednesday 22nd November is Budget Day. Regular readers of my blog may be thinking that it seems to have come around a bit quicker this year than it has previously, and you’d be right. For most of the last thirty years, the two main financial set-pieces in Parliament have been a Budget in early spring, and an “Autumn Statement” or “Pre-Budget Report” six months later. When Phillip Hammond became Chancellor, one of his first policies was to move future Budgets to the end of the year and replace the “Autumn Statement” with a more limited financial statement in March. This week’s Budget will be the first under this new system. 

Putting aside the details about the scheduling of financial statements for a moment, this Budget is shaping up to be one of the most important in over a decade. Not just one that will define this government, but the entire country. As anybody with life experience will tell you, you can only put off hard decisions so long. Eventually, you get to the point where you’re forced to make a choice, usually in circumstances that are far from ideal.

That’s the corner that the government has found themselves in, largely through their own making. It’s becoming increasingly clear to everybody, regardless of their party allegiance, that austerity has been one of the great blunders of our time. It has gutted the public services that we rely on, imposed private misery on tens of millions and hamstrung any resemblance of economic recovery. Wage growth is slower than it has been for two centuries, food banks are a lifeline for over a million failed by the welfare state and waiting times in hospitals are as bad as they’ve been for a decade and getting worse. All seven years of austerity and economic stagnation has succeeded in doing is giving us the worst of both worlds; the government borrowing even more while British workers get even poorer. 

That being said, I’ve always believed that it’s not enough to say what you’re against, you have to let people know what you’re for as well. So, if I was Chancellor on Wednesday, here’s a taster of the Budget I’d want to present.

It would have “investment, investment, investment” shot through it like a stick of rock, taking advantage of low interest rates to pour money into infrastructure, utilities and public services. The goal would be simple; kick start our economy through boosting productivity and growth. It would begin to address the housing crisis by encouraging all developers, be they public, private or anything in between, to build the right homes in the right numbers in the right locations. It would acknowledge the fact that many working families are struggling now by scrapping the freeze on income-related benefits and reverting to the old system of increasing them in line with inflation. This would lift 380,000 people, 85% of which are in working families, out of poverty in the next 3 years. It would encourage training, clamp down on low-paid, low-quality employment and fund anti-homelessness schemes like Help To Rent, offering people a real route back onto their own two feet.

Until very recently, many commentators would have condemned these plans as “far-left”, “tax and spend” or “deficit denial”. Now they’re beginning to realise that everything we’ve warned about for the past seven years has come to pass. However, this is not the time for us to start saying “I told you so”. I don’t expect half of my wish list to be in the Budget, but if even a little bit of it makes it through we’ll have taken a step towards undoing the damage of austerity. This Wednesday the eyes of Britain will be on the Chancellor. We should all hope that he realises the importance of what needs to be done.    
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Ending the Scourge of Working Poverty

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Here’s a quick brain-teaser to start off the day. What do the following numbers and percentages mean when it comes to pay in modern Britain: 150,000, £7.50, £10.20, £8.75, 4.6%, 3.6%, 66%.

150,000 is the number of workers nationwide who received an inflation beating pay rise last week. It’s no secret that the current “National Living Wage” of £7.50 an hour for over 25s is anything but. That’s why the Resolution Foundation think tank took matters into their own hands by running their own calculations to find how much it costs to live a normal life in Britain, covering everything from rent, household goods, transport and inflation. They concluded that the real living wage was £10.20 for London and £8.75 for the rest of the country. Based on their work, the Living Wage Foundation encourages businesses to voluntarily pay their employees the real living wage.

Monday last week was the beginning of Living Wage Week, the week where the annual recalculation of the living wage takes place (For the record, it’s gone up by 4.6% in London and 3.6% in the rest of the country, largely as a result of inflation). During Living Wage Week,  the opportunity is also taken to praise those businesses that have signed up to the living wage and shine a light on those who continue to refuse to do so. Unfortunately, 66% of the FTSE 100 companies, including giants like British Petroleum, BT, Vodaphone and Shell, still hold back on providing their workers a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

It may say more about the government’s failure to tackle the problem than anything else, but the fact remains that the work of the Living Wage Foundation is, and remains, one of the most successful weapons we have in the fight against the scourge of working poverty. One in every eight workers in the UK – 3.8 million people – is officially in poverty. A total of 7.4 million people, including 2.6 million children, are in poverty despite being in a working family. This means that over half of those in poverty belong to working households. Make no mistake, when the history of 21st century Britain is written, the fact that so many families could not make ends meet despite their hard work will go down as one of the darkest and most shameful chapters.

It should be noted as well that local government is by no means innocent in this either. While many authorities, including Tameside, have committed to become Living Wage employers one in ten council workers are still paid below the living wage. That’s why as part of our follow-up to Living Wage Week I make this call to the government, make the funds available to allow all councils to become accredited Living Wage employers. UNISON estimates that this simple act would lift more than 60,000 of the lowest paid public sector workers out of poverty. It wouldn’t solve all our problems, but it would be one heck of a start.

Make no mistake; the kind of working poverty we’re seeing doesn’t happen by itself. It’s the result of conscious decisions. Businesses ask themselves: Do we increase the pay of our workers or our executives; do we reinvest our profits or squirrel it away in tax havens? Governments ask themselves: Do we legislate for a minimum wage you can live on or for another cut in corporation tax; do we listen to the people or do we listen to paid-up lobbyists? For too long, too many have given the wrong answers to those questions. The work of the Living Wage Foundation and those which support it give me hope that another, better answer is possible.  

Posted by: Executive Leader


Tameside Will Never Forget

Monday, 13 November 2017

11am on Saturday 11th November 2017 marked the 99 year anniversary of the guns falling silent in World War 1. On that day and the day after, the country joined together in mourning and remembrance for those who fell not just in the “War to End All Wars”, but in all the wars and conflicts before and after.

Tameside played its part as well. Every town in the borough held at least one event, service or ceremony. Along with the other councillors for Droylsden, I attended a remembrance service in the Littlemoss Gardens in Saturday, followed by a parade and wreath laying ceremony at the Droylsden War Memorial the day after. As always, I was encouraged by the amount of people who turned out to pay their respects. In particular, the number of young people in attendance was nothing short of inspirational. There is now nobody left alive with direct experience of World War 1, and even the youngest of those with memories of World War 2 are beginning to hit 90 years of age or more. It will soon fall to the next generations to pick up the torch of remembrance, and from what I’ve seen from this weekend they will absolutely be up for the task.

1917 is a particularly important year to remember, as many of the events which occurred during that bitter and bloody year had resonance long after the hostilities ceased. In April, the United States of America formally entered the war, setting the stage for the final defeat of Germany and the Central Powers. Six months later, the Russian Revolution cast a shadow over the world that persisted until the very end of the 20th century. In Britain however, 1917 saw one battle which, along with the Somme the year before, has become a byword for the horror and slaughter of modern warfare: Passchendaele.

The numbers are harrowing enough. For 105 days, 275,000 young men from Britain and the Commonwealth fell in the carnage in Western Flanders; an average of 2,100 killed or wounded a day. What most people remember however, is the fact that the worst rain for 30 years turned the entire battlefield into a muddy quagmire. Tanks were immobilised, rifles were clogged up and many men simply drowned without ever seeing the enemy. No wonder that General Sir Lancelot Kiggell, upon visiting the battlefield, apparently broke down and declared, “Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?”

But amidst the mud and bodies were stories of incredible human bravery as well. Stories like that of Stalybridge Warrant Officer William Rhodes, killed in action in the 31st July 1917 (the very beginning of the battle) aged only 30 years of age. He was one of eleven men from Stalybridge, and one of three from Millbrook, who fell that day. Just before he died, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). His citation read, “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, he led his platoon with the utmost skill and fearlessness, doing his most valuable work and showing remarkable judgement and powers of leadership. He set a splendid example to all his men.”

It is this which we remembered at the weekend. Not just the courage and heroism of young men thrown into situations the likes of which we could scarcely imagine, but the hope that young men alive today will not have to experience and endure what they did. The original poppies issued by the Royal British Legion carried with them the injunction, “Never again”. We should heed their plea. As we honour all those who have fallen, let us also work towards peace and justice in our communities and throughout the world.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Stay Well This Winter

Friday, 10 November 2017

No matter what the meteorologists say, the month of November always feels like the beginning of winter to me. The clocks have gone back and the nights have truly started to draw in. That means evening markets, snow and visits from Santa Claus, but it also means that we need to start offering advice and a helping hand to those who may be left vulnerable over the next few months. That’s why we’ve joined forces with NHS Tameside and Glossop to make sure everybody can stay well this winter.

A quick reminder before I get into things. Don’t forget that if you’re pregnant, a parent of a young child, over 65, a carer or living with a long term health condition you may be eligible for a free flu jab. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I really cannot stress it enough. If you’re eligible and haven’t got it yet, please get in touch with your GP or pharmacist as soon as possible. Not only will you be helping yourself, you’ll be helping to relieve the winter pressure on our hard-stretched health services.

Beyond that, there are a variety of different things you can do to stay well this winter, regardless of your age, health or life circumstances. Some of the steps are applicable no matter what the season. As much as you can, make sure that you get a decent night’s sleep, eat properly and stay active. If you want to turn on your heating, try and get your house to a minimum of 17 degrees and wear suitable indoor clothing. Remember that the vast majority of houses (especially ones with modern insulation) will remain warm for several hours if you keep windows and doors closed. The NHS, the British Red Cross and the Met Office all have their own advice on preparing on winter, and they’re well worth a look if you have a few minutes to spare.

As well as looking after yourself, there’s a lot you can do to look after others as well. When it comes to the elderly and vulnerable, the Council and NHS will do as much as they can, but there is no substitute for communities rallying together. Popping round every day to check on an elderly or disabled neighbour or arranging to get shopping for them if they’re stuck in due to the weather. Simple things like that can make a world of difference. Tameside Housing Advice can also offer information and support if you are at risk of, or know someone at risk of, going through the winter without a roof over their head.

Last but not least, even with the gritting lorries going at full speed it’s pretty likely that most of us will have to drive through some pretty foul weather at some point in the next few months. Not just snow and ice, but darkness, fog, hail, rain and flooding can also make driving significantly more difficult. Make sure that, first and foremost, you look after yourselves and other while you’re on the road. The RAC and the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents have some useful advice on how to do just that.  

Let’s remember that despite all the talks of “weather bombs” and “polar vortexes” that we’ve heard about the vast majority of people have gotten through, and will continue to get through, the winter with no harm done. That being said, taking some sensible precautions and being a bit more aware of ourselves and others over the next few months will reduce the chances of anything untoward happening to the absolute minimum. So enjoy the mulled wine and the Christmas run up, but remember to keep warm, keep well, and keep safe too.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Celebrating Tameside’s Community Spirit

Friday, 03 November 2017

Here’s a quick pub quiz question for you. Where in Tameside has been described as “a good example of a Georgian planned town superimposed on a medieval street layout”? The answer is Ashton Town Centre, which since the 1970s has been designated as one of Tameside’s nine conservation areas. We’ve always been proud of Tameside’s history, and Ashton town centre is absolutely a part of that, with buildings like Portland Basin, Old Baths, the Market and Town Halls and the Grade I listed Church of St Michaels and All the Angels.

That’s why I was delighted at the news we received at the end of October that the Ashton Town Centre Conversation Area has formally been removed from the Heritage At Risk Register. An annual survey put together by Historic England, the register covers all heritage assets (such as listed buildings or scheduled monuments) that are at risk as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development, or are vulnerable to becoming so. Thanks to a variety of schemes and investments, most notably the transformation of the Ashton Old Baths into a creative and digital hub, we can now be safe in the knowledge that Ashton Town Centre is being preserved for future generations.

It’s therefore appropriate that this month will see a number of events that celebrate Tameside’s history and communities. Next weekend, every community and town in Tameside will be holding their own services and ceremonies to mark Remembrance Sunday. It’s especially poignant this year as 2017 marks the centenary of the some of the bloodiest battles of that entire bloody conflict, including Ypres, Cambrai and Messines. A complete list of the parades, church services and wreath-laying can be found on the council’s website here. My sincere thanks in advance to all those who make the time to honour Tameside’s fallen, not just from the Great War but from all the wars before and after. 

After those most solemn of occasions, the run-up to Christmas will officially begin in Tameside as every town put on their own fabulous Christmas light switch-on celebrations, starting with a Christmas market and funfair in Denton on Friday 17th November, and finishing with Hyde’s switch-on in the town’s civic square the Saturday afterwards. I’d never finish this blog if I listed everything that’s going on, but rest assured the package of events organised by the local community and our town teams include everything from Father Christmas, to comedians, to brass bands and pyrotechnics. The highlight of the Christmas celebrations, as always, will be Tameside’s famous Winter Carnival and Lantern Parade on 18th November, which will begin on Katherine Street in Ashton-under-Lyne at 6pm before winding its way down to Old Cross Street Car Park.  That will be followed for three weekends (24-26 November, 1-3 December, 9-10 December) by the Tameside Christmas Market in its regular spot behind the market hall. Come and browse the stalls and pick up some early Christmas presents, or sit down and drink a glass of mulled wine while the kids visit Santa's grotto or try one of the many rides on offer. However you celebrate Christmas, I’m sure there will be something there for you.

Preserving our history, honouring our fallen, celebrating Christmas; they may be three very different occasions, but all of them show the strength of Tameside’s communities, and how history and heritage are the glue that binds those communities together. From the community groups and town teams who help organise everything, to the volunteers that give their own time and effort to make sure things run smoothly, to the residents who turn up and breathe life and vibrancy into the events themselves, everybody has a role to play and everybody deserves our sincere gratitude. The tagline for last year’s Winter Carnival and Lantern Parade is as relevant now as it was then, We shine brighter together.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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