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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for September 2020

Time is Running Out to Stop Homelessness

Friday, 25 September 2020


With the introduction of further lockdown measures across the country, including the early closure of bars, pubs and restaurants and the U-turn on advice to return to the office where possible, it is clear that we are entering a critical phase in the struggle to prevent a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. However this only makes the absence of further protection from evictions, especially in the private rented sector, an even more glaring oversight.

Back in March when the lockdown began the government introduced a ban on landlords evicting tenants. This protection expired on 21st September, and there is no indication that the government will further extend the measures. Research by the housing charity Shelter estimates that over 300,000 private renters have already fallen into arrears as a result of the pandemic, and while the economic fallout of coronavirus is yet to be fully understood, it is thought that a further 1.7 million tenants will find their jobs under threat within the next three months.

This is not just a housing emergency, it has very real public health consequences as well. A number of senior doctors and health officials, including representatives from the British Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Physicians and the Faculty of Public Health, have warned that an increase in evictions and homelessness could result in a severe increase in coronavirus infections. People forced into overcrowded temporary or emergency accommodation are far more likely to be unable to follow social distancing or self-isolation guidelines, and may even be unable to carry out basic hygiene measures. Poor quality and overcrowded housing is also known to be a key factor in vulnerability to coronavirus infection, with groups such as BAME residents, young people and migrant workers with no recourse to public funds particularly at risk.

The devolved governments in Wales and Scotland have already recognised these issues and have responded by extending their eviction bans until at least March 2021 and providing financial support for struggling tenants. Unless similar steps are taken in England we face the very real risk of creating, at the worst possible time, a self-inflicted disaster in both homelessness and infections.

 

While we wait for the government to do the right thing, we have not been idle in Tameside. Our Homelessness Service has done incredible work in the past few years in helping those in need in the borough. No council in England has been more successful in reducing the number of rough sleepers from 42 in 2018 to 5 in 2019, a reduction of 86%. A rough sleeper count on Thursday 9 July 2020 found no-one sleeping rough in the borough, the first time in a decade that we have returned such a result.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has shown that we need to build on this good work to do more for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. We intend to push forward with our plans to introduce a Selective Licensing Scheme for the private rented sector in Tameside. This will include working closely with landlords to prevent evictions arising from coronavirus-related arrears at a local level, while simultaneously helping tenants come up with a reasonable and effective repayment plan to make good on the debt within two years. Landlords who take part in the scheme will also be able to access additional funding from the government’s Green Homes Grant to improve the quality and energy efficiency of their housing stock.

The scourge of homelessness is not something that any developed country should accept even at the best of times. At a time where our public health is also at stake, it is utterly unforgivable. We are one of the richest nations in the world. It’s time we started acting like it. I want to see no stone left unturned, locally and nationally, for those who need our help the most. 

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Tameside's Schools Deserve Better

Friday, 18 September 2020


Over five months after they closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, schools in Tameside have once again reopened their doors.

The decision to close schools to all except those considered particularly vulnerable and the children of key workers was not one that was made lightly. I think I speak for many when I say that there is a certain amount of relief that we are now in a position to teach our children again. Ofsted and education charities have warned that children from disadvantaged backgrounds risked being left behind while learning and it is a warning that we should take seriously. We cannot assume, as the government seemed to do, that all children had access to the internet, a computer or laptop of their own and a peaceful environment in which to study. Research by the Education Policy Institute found that disadvantaged teenagers were 18.1 months behind their fellow pupils by the time they finished their GCSEs even before the pandemic hit, and it is likely that that number would be even higher now taking into account the impact of school closures. Like all other parts of the public sector, schools have suffered heavily from a decade of austerity. If we intend to make up this attainment gap, it is absolutely essential that our schools be given the funding, resources and support to do so.

While I welcome the reopening of our schools, I am far from happy at the way that the entire process has been handled. While it was the right decision to close them, the guidance and information provided by the government to make it happen was not even close to fit for purpose. Unfortunately this chaos and confusion became a theme as the pandemic continued. The fiasco with exam results last month, where the expertise of education professionals was ignored in favour of a computer algorithm that penalised children through no fault of their own, was just the most glaring example of the disconnect between government policy and what teachers and pupils across the country knew was actually happening. Far too often the government also seemed to be prioritising reopening schools to free up parents to return to work, as opposed to putting the safety of children and teachers first. It should come as no surprise that a national survey taken at the end of the summer term showed that 79% of teachers thought that the government had handled “communication with schools” “badly” or “very badly”, and 80% responded with the same two answers when asked how practical the government’s advice was. 

Furthermore, while I have no doubt that teachers and other staff will do everything they can to keep their schools coronavirus-secure many of the measures needed to protect children, such as testing, take place outside the school gates. Only about 7% of school leaders are confident with the arrangements around testing, tracking and tracing coronavirus infections and carriers. I’ve talked in this blog previously that the current testing and tracing infrastructure is both overcentralized in that it does not utilise the knowledge of local health experts on the ground, and inefficient in that the private companies contracted to perform the service have consistently failed to hit their targets for contact tracing. Unfortunately since then the situation was only gotten worse. We’ve heard news of test facilities failing catastrophically to meet demand and stories of people being sent to test centres on the other side of the country, if they can even a book a test online or via telephone at all. There is no way to defeat the coronavirus pandemic that does not begin with a robust and effective testing regime, and the current lack of such is a severe failing that we are lobbying the government to address at every opportunity.

The risk of a second wave of the pandemic is still with us, especially as the days get colder and the nights get longer. Even in the short time that our schools have returned, in spite of the measures that schools have put in place, we have had cases where whole classes of children have been forced to self-isolate due to a fellow pupil testing positive for coronavirus. We cannot let schools, especially larger secondary schools, become new hubs for infection

Across the country teachers and other school staff have done incredible work in managing the transition to make our schools as safe as they can possibly be. They deserve better than having their efforts belittled and undermined by a chaotic and confused government. So as we welcome children returning to education at last, let’s remember that the fight against the coronavirus pandemic remains far from over.


Posted by: Executive Leader


A proactive, responsible and balanced response to Covid-19

Tuesday, 08 September 2020

It is of concern that the number of Covid-19 infections continues to rise in Tameside. A trend not unique to Tameside, and something we are seeing in other areas of Greater Manchester and across the country. Protecting the health and wellbeing of our population is at a critical tipping point.
 
Strong and decisive action is needed. So I make no apologies for trying to limit the number of people in high risk settings, on public transport and in unnecessary contact. That is one of the best ways we can support our communities in the effort to fight back and break the chain of transmission. I am particularly conscious that as we support all our children and young people to be in school and college we must be hypervigilant. We will follow the appropriate protocols to contain the virus, protect children, teachers and support staff, while ensuring lessons can continue.
 
Public service employees are working harder than ever to deliver services in challenging circumstances.  Throughout the coronavirus pandemic the employees of Tameside Council have worked tirelessly – providing food and basic essentials to those at risk, protecting our most vulnerable residents in their homes, and keeping essential services, such as waste collection, running. Many of them have in fact put their own health and wellbeing second, while others have been separated from their families to keep vital services in place.
 
Most of our workforce is based out in the community. You can see them every day – out and about on the streets emptying bins and clearing litter, tending to our parks and open spaces, calling on the vulnerable at home, checking food hygiene standards in restaurants and takeaways, and helping people find the information they need at the library.
 
To help limit the spread of the virus a proportion of our office based workforce started to work from home at the end of March. Many of them continue to do so as we carry on the work to contain transmission of Covid-19. Enabling staff to work from home wherever possible is the right thing to do, and follows both the science and medical advice from the government. By the way, I should also tell you that not all are working from home. Many of our office based staff have been diverted into frontline roles, protecting our community at a time of need.
 
Clearly the national lockdown and the continuing restrictions are having an impact on the economy, both nationally and locally. We are working hard to support our town centres and traders, and will continue to do so. However, even more damage will be done to the economy, and to the lives of our residents, if the virus is not effectively controlled. Urging workers to return to the office at the same time as reopening schools will jeopardise the test and trace system's ability to cope, while increasing risk on public transport which many of our residents rely on to be able to get to work. Containing the virus now is the key to health and prosperity in the long term. Anything else is a recipe for a social and economic slump of the kind we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.
 
In the ongoing fight against the coronavirus I am asking residents to volunteer to become ‘Community Champions’, helping to spread key messages and feeding back to us about what is working well and what is not. By doing so you will be joining a network of people receiving regular briefings on the Covid-19 situation in Tameside and how best to protect your family and community.
 
If you’re interested in becoming a Community Champion please visit the website to learn more here www.tameside.gov.uk/communitychampions or e-mail community.champions@tameside.gov.uk

Posted by: Executive Leader


All Aboard the Ashton-Under-Lyne Interchange

Friday, 04 September 2020


Since I became Leader of Tameside Council over two a half years ago, one of my main priorities has been building up our local economy and infrastructure, making it easier for all our residents to live, work and travel around the borough. Even during our fight against the coronavirus pandemic we have not wavered from this key task. Last weekend we hit a major milestone as services began running from the brand new Ashton-Under-Lyne Interchange.

Working in partnership with building contractor VINCI Construction UK and funded by Transport for Greater Manchester, the Interchange provides passengers with radically improved amenities and a modern, accessible gateway into Ashton and Tameside as a whole. Once it’s fully up and running, 90% of the town’s bus services will operate from the £32.7 million facility. Over 145 buses will arrive and depart from the Interchange per hour via a mixture of “drive in, drive out” (DIDO) and “drive in, reverse out” (DIRO) stands to maximise the use of space.

Due to its proximity to the train station and Metrolink stop, passengers will be able to easily change between bus, rail and tram services, and the more efficient pedestrian crossings and secure cycle parking spaces will reduce walking time and make cycling easier as well. Other improvements in the Interchange include a fully covered concourse and waiting area, electronic timetables with bus, tram and rail information, high-quality toilets incorporating baby changing and “Changing Places” facilities for commuters with complex disabilities, retail units and CCTV. It’s not just about function either, as artist and sculptor Michael Condron has been recruited to work with local residents to design public art for the concourse that reflects Tameside’s proud industrial heritage.

 

As people begin to return to work and visit our towns to use shops and services again, it’s more important than ever that people feel safe and confident when they travel. That’s why, in keeping with all new Transport for Greater Manchester infrastructure, extensive measures have been put in place within the Interchange to protect commuters from coronavirus. Hand sanitiser dispensers have been installed within the main concourse, and a rigorous anti-viral hygiene regime will see increased cleaning on buses and the Interchange itself alongside litter collections taking place throughout the day. A number of measures to support social distancing such as ground stickers, platform signage and announcements have also been incorporated within the Interchange. While all these will no doubt improve safety and the flow of commuters, I would still ask you to observe the guidelines for using public transport, such as planning ahead, avoiding peak times where possible and remembering that spaces on buses, trains and trams will still be limited due to social distancing. 

The past year has been a challenge unlike anything we have faced in over a century. While it’s unlikely that we’ve seen the back of coronavirus yet, the opening of the Ashton-Under-Lyne Interchange is proof of our commitment to building back a better and greener future. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit we had already successfully delivered a number of ambitious investments under the “Vision Tameside” project to transform our borough, including the redevelopment of our Further Education colleges, Ashton Old Baths and the Tameside Wellness Centre. Making it easier and safer for residents to travel around Tameside will bring all of this together, unlocking greater economic prosperity, increasing employment opportunities and transforming learning and skills in the borough. Building world-leading transport infrastructure is also an important step to helping people to leave their cars at home to reduce congestion, improve air quality and protect our shared environment.

Even as we grapple with the coronavirus pandemic in the present, the opening of the Interchange shows that we are still keeping one eye firmly on the future. My thanks go out to everybody who helped make this new transport hub a reality. I for one can’t wait to make full use of it.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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