Executive Leader Cllr Kieran Quinn

Leader's Blog  
    

Councillor Kieran Quinn, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for September 2017

Have your say on traffic congestion

Friday, 29 September 2017



Cast your mind back to December 2008. It was a time when the first iPhones were only a year old, Alexandra Burke won the fifth series of the X-Factor and Benjamin Button was riding high at the box office. OK, I’ll admit that I had to look those things up, but the point is it feels like quite a while ago!

The reason I’m talking about December 2008 is because it was also the time of the Greater Manchester Congestion Charge Referendum. The referendum balloted all eligible voters in Greater Manchester on proposals to introduce a congestion charge in the region and provide £3 billion of investment in the local public transport infrastructure. The proposals were resoundingly rejected, the congestion charge was shelved and only some of the investment was implemented, mainly to improve the Metrolink Network.

Almost 10 years on and congestion is back on the agenda. Whilst the idea of a charge has gone away, and has been ruled out completely by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, the congestion problem that the 2008 proposals were seeking to solve has not. That’s why the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has launched a survey to seek your views on how to tackle the issue.

A major issue it is too. Through delaying deliveries and making people late for work the issue of congestion costs the economy of Greater Manchester an estimated £1.3 billion annually. To put that in to context that money could build 4 new hospitals or 65 new schools!  High volumes of traffic standing still on congested roads also lead to high concentrations of dangerous emissions that cause a range of illnesses.

And so you can see that it is important that we come up with a plan to tackle this issue. As always, the best and most effective plans are those that have the largest possible buy-in from those that they affect. That’s why TfGM have launched a survey; to engage those who have direct experience of congestion in drawing up the plans to tackle it. I would encourage all readers to complete the survey by visiting www.tfgm.com/congestion. Together we will beat congestion and get Greater Manchester moving again.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Celebrating Tameside's Best at the Pride of Tameside Sports Awards

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Summer might have drawn to a close, but that doesn’t mean the big events are stopping in Tameside. On the contrary, all eyes were on Dukinfield Town Hall last Friday as the building played host to one of the highlights of the year: The 2017 Pride of Tameside Sports Awards.

The event, as always, celebrated some of the very best that our borough has to offer. Not just the dedication and achievements of individuals, but of our schools, sports clubs and other community organisations as well. In a sign of how prestigious and respected the Awards have become, we once again managed to bring in somebody from the top tier of the sporting world to host the festivities. Our sincere thanks goes to Olympic and Commonwealth medallist swimmer Steve Parry for picking up the mantle that has been carried in the past by the likes of Michael Vaughan and fellow swimmer Mark Foster.

This year also saw the creation of two new awards. The School Commitment to PE Award was set up to recognise the Tameside schools which have gone above and beyond to introduce their pupils to sport through extracurricular activities and afterschool clubs. The Believe and Achieve Trust, a charity set up in honour of local hero Alex Williams, also gave out their own award to acknowledge the drive of a young person in Tameside to excel in their chosen sport. Congratulations to the inaugural winners of these awards: St John Fisher RC Primary School and Jake Smith. I’ve no doubt that they will be the first of many.

A record number of nominations were received for this year’s awards, reflecting both the growth of the occasion and the sheer wealth and depth of people’s involvement with sport in Tameside. A complete list of the awards and winners can be found here, but to keep this blog a reasonable length I want to focus on some people that I found particularly inspiring. People like Sports Achiever of the Year winner Angela Oldham. A veteran of East Cheshire Harriers running club, Angela ran 10 marathons in 10 days and has also set herself the target of completing 65 park runs before her 65th birthday. People like Unsung Hero of the Year Harry Twamley. For over 50 years he has served in various roles at Curzon Ashton F.C., helping to navigate the club through the world of non-league football (and to the 2nd Round of the FA Cup) since Day One of its inception. As always, all of our winners will have a chance to gain further recognition by representing the borough at the Greater Manchester Sports Awards.

Let’s not forget either that the Awards would not have been possible without our sponsors, including New Charter Housing Trust Group, Manchester Airport, Tameside Council, Pulse Fitness, Myson, MID Communications, Sportmax, Midshire, Belle Vue Coaches, Davies Sports and Active Tameside. As well as supporting the event itself they also donated a variety of great prizes for the evening’s raffle, all of the proceeds of which went to the Believe and Achieve Trust.

All in all, we can look back on another successful year for the Pride of Tameside Sports Awards. We’re been working hard with the NHS and Care Together in recent months to show how living a healthy, active life can improve people’s quality of life and save money on vital services. As part of that, it’s more important than ever to celebrate those in Tameside who either put those ideals into practice or help others to do so. Well done to all of the winners, to all of those who were nominated and to all of those who helped make the event the showcase for the borough that it always is.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Britain's looming debt crisis

Friday, 22 September 2017

This week a stark figure emerged revealing the scale of the growing crisis of consumer debt in Britain. £200bn of debt has been amassed on credit cards, personal loans and car finance deals; a level equal to that which was reached prior to the 2008 financial crisis. With an increase in interest rates on the cards there is concern among policy makers that households will reach breaking point.

To understand what’s behind this growth in debt you only have to look at the geographical spread. Information from the money advice service puts the number of people in the UK with problem debts at around 8.3 million, though they are far from equally distributed around the country.

The definition of problem debt is debt that causes individuals to struggle to pay bills each month or to miss at least three bill payments in a six month period. Areas where more than 20% of people have this kind of debt include Blaenau Gwent, Hull and Manchester; three post-industrial areas still struggling to replace the high-wage, skilled employment that existed just a few decades ago with anything other than low wage, unskilled, insecure work.

Whilst financial education could arguably be improved, simply telling people who have no money that debt is bad is not going to stop them borrowing when they would otherwise be unable to afford to eat, heat their homes or fund a means of travelling to work.

People such as the Financial Conduct Authority and MPs are already calling for the government to take action on debt, though it is some of the government's actions that have caused this problem in the first place. For example, the continuing pressure on wages driven by the Government’s pay cap, which I wrote about last week, is a contributing factor forcing people to borrow more money to survive. The failure to provide affordable housing has stoked up house prices to a level where they eat up a greater proportion of household income than ever before. The lack of an industrial strategy has stopped post-industrial towns from finding a new purpose and deprived the economy of skilled, well paid jobs. And finally, the continuing mismanagement of Brexit has crashed our pound, driven up inflation and created uncertainty for business such that investment in our economy is drying up.

It is clear however that there are actions the government can take. Just glancing at the forecourt of any car dealership gives a clear illustration of just how easy obtaining credit has become. When a brand new car can be obtained for just £150 per month, it’s difficult to resist the temptation. Equally, with the flooding of the market with 0% interest credit cards, why pay off your balance when you can just keep transferring it to another provider when the offers expire? Cutting off these kinds of offers immediately would be a disaster for consumers, but clearly some regulation should be introduced to reduce their proliferation and bring debt back down to sustainable levels.

The unfortunate, and often unsaid, truth is that without regulation these deals won’t last forever anyway. It may be that when lenders decide that they have lent out too much compared to the cash they have in the bank they do just turn off the tap. This would mean that all of a sudden households whose income doesn’t cover the cost of living would have nowhere else to obtain credit. That is, unless you include loan sharks.

I therefore welcome the proposal for an inquiry in to the matter by the Treasury Select Committee and will be keeping an eye on the issue. I only hope that the identification of the problem debt bubble has not come too late. The thing about bubbles is that they have a tendency to burst.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Renewable energy boost

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Renewable energy boostEfforts to transform the UK’s energy mix reached another milestone this week after a government auction for energy project subsidies saw successful bidders agree to build wind turbines for the lowest prices ever.

These auctions are the process where the government agrees the price it will pay for the electricity generated at new energy plants. At the last auction engineering firms agreed to build new offshore wind turbines for which the government will pay £57.50 for each megawatt hour of electricity generated. To put that in to context, in 2015 the price agreed for similar projects was between £114 and £120 per MWh, around double. This fall in prices is significant, and as a country it will help us increase the proportion of energy generated from renewable sources, something that we desperately need to do.

In the league table of European Countries, at just 7.29% in 2014, we are close to the bottom when it comes to how much of our energy comes from clean and green sources. The only places which aren’t small islands or our own overseas territories which use less renewable energy are Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. In the Scandinavian countries the figure is consistenly above 40%, with the Icelandics particularly standing out, generating 76% of their energy without dirty fossil fuels.

The extreme weather events of recent weeks have brought in to sharp focus why the transition to green energy is essential and must be accelerated. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which have wreaked havoc in the Caribbean and North America, are part of one the most destructive hurricane seasons the region has experienced.

Followed by hurricane Jose, which is currently swirling in the Atlantic, 2017 is the first time since 2010 that three hurricanes have been active in the area at the same time. Whilst still crunching the numbers on exactly how man made climate change has generated the circumstances that have given rise to this situation, climate scientists are in no doubt that greenhouse gas emissions have played a role.

On climate change the slogan is “think global, act local” and here in Tameside that is exactly what we’ve tried to do. At one end of the scale the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, which is administered by Tameside Council, was part of a consortium that purchased a 49.9% stake in the Clyde onshore wind farm. Our investment triggered the further expansion of the farm to increase generating capacity by 172.8MW.

At the other end of the scale the Council’s tree planting programme has seen over 4,000 new trees planted in parks and open spaces across the Borough which will, during their lifetime, offset thousands of tonnes of Carbon emissions. Our drive to improve our recycling rate has also diverted more waste from landfill, reducing the amount of energy expended on manufacturing new paper and plastics and mining new metal.

All branches of government and all organisations and individuals have a role to play in helping to reduce the impact of the worst excesses of man-made climate change. We in Tameside are playing our part and I sincerely hope that the government play their part. They could start by using the new lower subsidies as an opportunity to commission more renewable energy generating projects and dramatically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Posted by: Executive Leader


Axe the pay cap. Properly.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

How would you cope if your salary at work was cut by £4500? Or what about as much as £6000? Consider if 14% was lopped off what you took home each pay day. These are the cuts in wages of the average teacher, police officer and nurse respectively since 2010.
 
Now this money hasn’t just been taken off our essential public sector workers over night, that would precipitate mass protests immediately surely? It’s been more sinister than that. Through a combination of a 2 year pay freeze and the 1% pay rise cap, since 2010 wages have been held down at below the rate of inflation. This means that over time the pay of our public servants has failed to keep pace with rises in energy bills, food bills and housing costs.
 
For those more fortunate that has just meant less money to spend on “nice to haves”. Families having to put off buying a new car, having to go on a less expensive holiday or eating out less. Though for many it has meant the choice between eating or heating or the choice between having a roof over your head and not.
 
In the case of the former you may well think that (if you still buy the line that we are “all in this together”) going without “nice to haves” is a price worth paying to get the nation’s finances in order. To that I would respond, if we haven’t got enough money to pay nurses and teachers, where are we getting the money from to slash corporation tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax? In the case of the latter you’d have to have a heart of stone to think it anything other than a national scandal that in a developed country like ours we have workers in full time employment who can’t afford a place to live, enough to eat or the heating bill to stay warm. This isn’t hyperbole, there are accounts of nurses using food banks. Research shows that the proportion of households in fuel poverty is predicted to rise this year.
 
Well what is the solution? Sadly the solution for many public servants is to leave their jobs. Nurses are leaving to work in supermarkets because they find that they can earn more per hour filling shelves than caring for people. There is a well reported recruitment crisis in the armed forces and teaching which, in the case of teaching has led to the government giving out big cash incentives for people to join the profession. The human cost of this is understaffed hospitals and the beat bobby being a thing of the past. This is no way for any country to run its public services.
 
This week the government believe that they have found their own solution. They’ve decided to lift the pay cap, or so the headlines say. However upon reading the full story it will only be lifted for police and prison officers, the rise will still be below the level of inflation and so is again a real terms cut, and there’s no extra money for police authorities so they’ll have to find it themselves by cutting elsewhere. This might mean the loss of even more officers. This is not good enough.
 
Public service funding should not be based on a popularity contest pitting different services against each other. It’s not just about the front line either. Without the call handlers, payroll clerks, researchers and administrators, the front line of our public services would not be able to operate.
 
It’s time that our government stops taking our public sector workers for granted. Their contempt for public servants has delivered a crisis right across our public sector. The government should step up and put that right.
 
Britain’s public services deserve better. Britain’s public services deserve a pay rise.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


How Not to Make Work Pay (Part 2)

Tuesday, 12 September 2017


Whatever your views on the subject, it looks like Brexit is going to be the first, last and only topic of discussion now that Westminster has returned from the summer holidays and the EU Withdrawal Bill has begun to make its way through Parliament. Beyond that, we’ve also got the first autumn budget in over two decades scheduled for around the end of November or beginning of December. Since everybody will have a view on the former, it’s the latter that I want to talk about today.

And for good reason too. Obscured amidst the din over the weekend was the release of, “The Cumulative Impact of Welfare Reform: A National Picture”, a new report on cost of living by the Local Government Association. Even by the standards of the age of austerity, it makes for grim reading. It concludes that by 2020 more than 2.14 million of the poorest families in the country will be £50 a week (£2,600 a year) worse off. 84% of these are households with children, and almost two thirds are working households.  

Their story is a familiar one, a crisis in living standards brought about by a toxic combination of falling incomes and rising costs. It should come as no surprise that increased housing costs, particularly in the private-rented sector, are a significant driver. More than 2 million low-paid private renters face an average loss of £38.49 a week by 2020, although the exact figure will vary significantly depending on how many people are in the household and where they are in the country.

At the same time, the £12 billion worth of benefits cuts announced by the previous government are beginning to bite. Those currently on working tax credits are facing a significant income drop, ranging from £300 to £4000 a year depending on circumstances, as they are moved to Universal Credit. Even after taking into account increases in the so-called National Living Wage and the Personal Tax Allowance, many of those families will remain worse off than they were before. Funding for those in financial crisis has also been cut back significantly.  To give just one example among many, the DWP has a £185 million budget for discretionary housing payments in 2017-18 to meet a combined annual income loss of £4 billion.

It’s time to face facts. Far from “Making work pay”, all seven years of cuts upon cuts have achieved is the worsening of the lot of millions of hard -working families. Hard-working families that the government, once upon a time, claimed to care so much about.

In a couple of months, the Chancellor will have the chance to own up to these mistakes and start making amends. He could start by following some of the recommendations laid out in the report. In the short term: restoring the link between housing benefit and private rents, boosting Universal Credit to help eliminate working poverty, and ensuring that funding is available to provide adequate and appropriate support at a local level for those who need it. In the longer term, we also need to start taking a look at deeper issues such as our broken housing market and our economy’s miserable level of productivity.

Not only does all of this need to happen, it needs to happen before millions across the country lose even more than they already have. Let’s make sure that we keep holding the government to account for their failure to make a country that works for everybody.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Are you eligible for a free flu jab?

Friday, 08 September 2017

September already, can you believe it?

You may already have noticed some of the signs of September. The yellowing of leaves on the trees, colder temperatures, shorter days and of course the arrival of Christmas stock in many shops! It’s at this time of year where the Council and our partner agencies also start to adapt our practices and put in place systems and measures that respond to the seasonal risks of autumn and winter.

For the Council these will mean refocusing our greenspace resources on tidying up leaf litter and checking that we have adequate stocks of grit to see us through until spring. For the police it means that they look to deploy officers to respond to the heightened risks of anti-social behaviour and burglary owing to the darker nights. And in the case of the NHS it means that they will be running their annual winter flu jab campaign to maximise uptake and ensure that all vulnerable groups are protected from the illness. The Council is also using its profile to support the NHS in promoting the uptake of the flu jab locally.

It is estimated that several million people get flu each winter, leading to thousands of NHS intensive care admissions across the UK. Reducing transmission by encouraging vaccination can slash the number of GP appointments that are filled and cut the number of unplanned hospital admissions that place pressure on the NHS. Given the recent news that the NHS requires a £350 million bailout in order to manage the winter pressures it is expecting, and until the government decides whether or not it will oblige, if we can do anything to reduce the demand on our health service we should. In this context getting your flu jab is a no-brainer.

Anyone can catch flu but residents aged 65 and over, working as informal carers, suffering a long-term health condition or going through pregnancy are eligible for a free vaccination. This is because these groups are either particularly vulnerable to illness and complications, or could spread the infection to others who are at risk. Young children also need an inoculation – but no needles are involved, it comes in the form of a nasal spray.

GP practices in Tameside and Glossop will be opening their flu clinics from next week. Get in touch with your doctor or local pharmacy to find out where and when you can get your jab or spray.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside?

Wednesday, 06 September 2017

Image result for blackpool pier

Here’s a small thought experiment for you. About which British town was the following passage written? “That tho’ it is very rich and increasing in wealth and trade, and consequently in people, there is not room enough to enlarge the town by building, which would be certainly done much more than it is, but that the river on the land-side prescribes them”.

If that had been written today you’d assume it was referring to some place in the south-east, or maybe even London itself. In fact, the quote is from the famous writer Daniel Defoe (of “Robinson Crusoe” fame) talking about the seaside town of Great Yarmouth in the 1700s. Three centuries later, it is unlikely that anybody is saying anything similar about any of our seaside towns. A recent report by the Social Market Foundation has highlighted that the plight of faded old resorts like Great Yarmouth, Rhyl and Clacton-on-Sea.

Much like Manchester and other places in the north, many of these towns and resorts dotted around our country’s coasts grew from villages and hamlets as a result of the Industrial Revolution. What cotton spinning did for Ashton and Dukinfield, tourism did for Blackpool and Margate as railways brought factory workers from the cities on their summer holidays. Even into this century, I’d be willing to bet very good money that most people of a certain age still hold fond memories of family holidays by the seaside.

Unfortunately, the rise of cheap flights and package holidays called time on the golden age of British holidaymaking. At its height 17 million people visited Blackpool a year, these days it’s a good year if it gets half that. The Social Market Foundation’s research has highlighted the grim consequences. 7 of the top 20 local authorities in Britain in terms of unemployment rate among 16-64 olds are in coastal communities, along with 9 of the bottom 20 in terms of gross annual salary and 10 of the top 20 in terms of % of population in bad or very bad health. Ironically, it also bucks the North/South divide, with areas as geographically disparate as North Ayrshire, Hartlepool, Hastings and Carmarthenshire all featuring.

What does all that mean for Tameside? While we may be far from a beach here, the deprivation in our seaside towns is but an extreme example of what happens when entire parts of our country are left to the mercies of neglect. Neglect of transport links, cutting them off from the rest of the country and the rest of the country off from them. Neglect of local economies, forcing those living there into low-quality work or no work at all. Neglect of human potential, stopping people from bettering themselves and feeling like they have a stake in society. We see it in boarded up piers and abandoned hotels of our seaside towns, but we see it also in the antiquated trains and railways of our northern cities.

These are legacies that can only be solved by a radically new way of organising our economy. Devolution is the start of that process, but much more needs to be done. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has shown how sub-national bodies with real autonomy and real authority can make big decisions and make real improvements to their regions. If we can get it working here, why can’t it work for other parts of the country, even those at the most neglected fringes?

The potential is there, only political will stops us getting to where we need to be.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


New GCSEs, Same Success

Friday, 01 September 2017


Ask somebody what the most important services provided by a local authority are and the same few things will always come up; bins or potholes and the like. However, we also make sure that Tameside’s children receive the best education possible. It’s a responsibility that we take seriously. In recent years we’ve invested £250 million in Tameside’s education system, refurbishing or rebuilding old schools and setting up organisations like the A+ Trust to share expertise and best practice. Through this hard work and the hard work of the young people in all our schools, we’ve seen three consecutive years of improvement in GCSE results in Tameside.

It’s a record that we are quite rightly proud of. Unfortunately, this time round I can’t write about a fourth consecutive year of improvement in results, although reason for this has been beyond our control. This academic year was the first in which the pupils sitting the tests in some subjects took on the government’s reformed GCSEs. Instead of the A*-G system of grading, pupils are now marked on a new scale of 1-9, with 9 being the highest mark up for grabs. A grade 4 is a “standard pass” and a grade 5 a “strong pass”. However, this new system combined with a more challenging curriculum means that the results in the subjects where it has been rolled out; English Language, English Literature and Maths, are not comparable with previous years. As of yet, there are also no national benchmarks with which we can set ourselves against.

That being said, the results we have seen in Tameside are very encouraging indeed, especially when you take into account that teachers and pupils were dealing with entirely new syllabuses and exams. Standard passes in both English and Maths have been achieved by 62% of the borough’s pupils in mainstream schools with 39% of pupils also receiving a strong pass. For English, the pass rates in mainstream schools were 74% for standard passes and 58% for strong passes, while in Maths 68% and 46% of pupils walked away with standard and strong passes respectively. As always, there were some outstanding achievements from individual schools as well, most notably St Damian’s RC Catholic College’s standard pass rate of 86% and strong pass rate of 63%, and Fairfield High School for Girls’ standard pass rate of 84% and strong pass rate of 58%.

Over the next few years we fully intend to build on these strong foundations to help all of our maintained schools improve and adjust to the new reforms. That being said, I would have liked to have seen more clarity and communication from the government around the transition from the old A*-C grading system to the new 1-9 one. A particularly aggravating issue is that, since the reformed GCSEs are being rolled out over three years, pupils who sit their exams this year, next year and the year after will forever have a mixture of number and letter grades on their results papers and CVs. We’re already seeing universities disagreeing over whether a 4 or 5 in the new system is equivalent to the old C pass. At best, not having some way of comparing the two systems will lead to confusion and stress for those young people. At worst, they may miss out on jobs or qualifications as further education institutions and employers draw their own conclusions about what the different grades mean.

However, let’s not allow that to take away from the hard work and achievements of so many of our young people. My thanks also go out to all the teachers and support staff who worked day in, day out to help make it happen. Once again, Tameside has come together to make sure that our young people get the best start to their working lives.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


These entries were filed under the Executive Leader's Blog. You can follow any responses to these entries through the RSS 2.0 feed.