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Tameside Hospital & Care Together

Friday, February 24th, 2017

It is no secret that our National Health Service is currently facing a period of real challenge – arguably the greatest it has ever faced. The twin pressures of an ageing population and chronic under investment since 2010 are colliding to create a crisis that if not tackled effectively could make the NHS as we know it unsustainable.

What we need is a plan for the future. What we don’t need is unhelpful and inaccurate speculation. Sadly that is what occurred the other week when the Health Service Journal (HSJ) incorrectly reported that the A&E department at Tameside Hospital has been earmarked for downgrade or even closure.

I was pleased to see that Tameside Hospital quickly ended the speculation by issuing a clear statement last week that the report in the HSJ was not accurate.

So let’s be absolutely clear; the A&E department at Tameside Hospital has not been earmarked for downgrade or closure. As the hospital said in their statement, the Healthier Together review of hospitals across Greater Manchester (which reported in 2015), made a commitment to invest in and improve all of Greater Manchester’s A&E departments, including here in Tameside. And that is what is happening. That’s not downgrading or closing, it’s about as far away from downgrading or closing as you can get.

The real story here in Tameside and Glossop is Care Together, our plan for the future of our health and care services. 2017 will be a big year for our Care Together programme as we continue to turn our plans into reality for local people. In a nutshell, the job of Care Together is to enable local people to make lifestyle choices that mean a trip to the doctor or hospital is something they rarely have to make. It is through self-care at home and local services based in the community that we can increase healthy life expectancy and make our health and care system financially sustainable in a period of funding cuts and an ageing population. But alongside this we will also ensure that where people do need to visit the doctor or the hospital, including A&E, they will get the best possible high quality service.

At the end of last year, we secured £23 million in Transformation Funding from the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership – a major endorsement and statement of confidence in our plans in Tameside and Glossop. And earlier this month Tameside Hospital achieved an overall score of ‘Good’ following an inspection by the Care Quality Commission. They’ve had their difficulties in recent years, but the team and staff at the hospital have performed absolutely first class improvement work. So I believe we can move forward with our plans with confidence and purpose.

Oh, and by the way, if the speculation had been true, and there were plans to downgrade or close Tameside’s A&E department then I and Tameside Council would have been at the forefront, fighting tooth and nail, to keep Tameside’s A&E open.

Loanshark crackdown benefits local savers

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

1 in 4 families have fewer than £95 in savings

Among this week’s headlines was the stark figure that one in four families in the UK have fewer than £95 in savings. When £95 would barely cover some of the most basic car repairs, a boiler breakdown or the latest gadget for a child’s birthday, the fact that 25% of British households have so little in savings should be a cause of grave concern for the Government.

Clearly the solution to this is the investment in infrastructure and better paid jobs, which I’ve consistently called for, that would drive economic growth, and also the ending of public sector pay restraint which has meant that wage growth has been outstripped by rising prices for many years now. Unfortunately for my Council colleagues and I, these are matters that are currently out of our hands. However, where we can make a difference as the local authority we do.

For example, last week we heard news that our local Credit Union, Cash Box has recruited 50 new members since December via an initiative that gave a cash incentive for new joiners using money confiscated from illegal money lenders. A partnership between Tameside Council, Cashbox and the England Illegal Money Lending Team had recovered £1250 from loan sharks and used this to award a £25 savings boost for each of the first 50 new members who made at least two monthly payments in to their account.

Cashbox is our local credit union

This scheme follows our ‘Generation Savers’ pledge last year to encourage a culture of saving amongst our residents from an early age. The pledge provided a £10 bonus for 11 year olds who opened an account on their transition from primary to secondary school. There has been good interest and uptake in this, but we are clear that we need to improve further in order to truly embed the culture of saving that we desire for Tameside.

It is hoped that the new members who joined as part of these two initiatives will continue to be regular savers and will have money set aside, that they otherwise wouldn’t have had, for any future emergencies.

In addition to being a safe place to deposit your savings (and the opportunity to earn a dividend on them which, owing to record low interest rates, can be better than savings rates offered by banks) Credit Unions also act as a responsible lender, offering loan products to those who haven’t quite saved enough for any eventualities. Borrowers can take out a loan knowing that the provider is a fair and legal lender, and also that the interest being paid is reinvested back in to members and the community given that the Credit Union is a mutual organisation.

Promoting and growing Credit Union membership therefore meets two objectives. Firstly it encourages our residents to put away some of their earnings for a rainy day, and secondly it provides an alternative to expensive payday lenders and loan sharks.

I therefore welcome this growth in membership and will support any initiatives that seek to grow the credit union further.

Hate Crime Awareness Week

Friday, February 10th, 2017

At the end of last week shocking footage emerged of a torrent of vile racist abuse being directed at a man travelling home from work on a Salford bus. The footage was widely shared on social media, thankfully leading to the perpetrator’s arrest and, in the process exposing much of what he said to attempt to justify his behaviour as utter nonsense (he had claimed that his 77 year old Grandfather had fought in World War II though, at 77, he would have been only 5 or 6 years old when the war ended in 1945). It’s disgusting crimes like this that demonstrate the importance of our support for Hate Crime Awareness Week.

Hate Crime Awareness Week is a national initiative that has been promoted locally in Greater Manchester by the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Tony Llloyd. It has been an annual event for the last five years and began on Monday this week. It has involved a range of events being held across the region including many, right here in Tameside.

Our roadshow at Stalybridge Tesco

Whilst the example I gave above was that of racist abuse, hate crimes are no less serious when committed against people on the basis of religion, gender, sexuality or disability. It’s for this reason that a range of different organisations were involved in the events that marked the week in Tameside. In addition to the Council roadshow which visited busy shopping and leisure locations around the Borough, LGBT group Out Loud created a piece of artwork to mark the week, disability advocacy group People First Tameside used digital storytelling to discuss their experiences and the Friends of Duke Street Music Project are composing a piece of music to communicate the issue of hate crime.

Appropriately, the week also coincided with Tameside Council’s launching of the ‘Safe Spaces’ initiative. Safe spaces are designated places around the Borough where people who feel threatened can express their identity without fear of discrimination or attack. They are also locations where hate crimes and incidents can be reported. Operated by local organisations and agencies, they are independent of the police so as to recognise that some victims may have concerns about going to the police, or lack the confidence to make a report themselves. Many of them are organisations that can offer support to hate crime victims in addition to approaching the police on their behalf. The full list of safe spaces is available online here www.tameside.gov.uk/hatecrime/reporting/locations.

Tameside is a diverse community, and it is from this diversity that we draw strength and are a more vibrant and successful place. Schemes that root out, expose and deal with, discrimination of any kind will always enjoy my full support. In the words of the late Jo Cox MP, we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.

Count them in

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Councillors Cooney, F Travis and I signing the letter of support.

Last week at the meeting of Full Council I had the pleasure of lending Tameside’s support to the important ‘Count Them In’ campaign being run by the Royal British Legion. The campaign calls for additional questions to be incorporated in the 2021 census that would help to identify members of the Armed Forces Community. The reasoning for this is simple. The more we know about the composition of our communities the better organisations like the Council can plan how best to use their resources.

Despite the next census being more 4 years away the Office for National Statistics and their devolved equivalents are already planning the questions that will be asked when it lands on residents’ doormats. We now have a once in a generation opportunity to influence what those are and it is important that we seize it.

Tameside has a track record of supporting armed forces veterans. We have the armed forces and veteran’s breakfast club every second Saturday at Portland Basin. We launched the veteran’s jobs pledge in 2015 which has so far assisted 9 ex-service personnel back to work. We have recognised the service of local fallen heroes Tony Downes and Andrew Breeze by naming the new Pension Fund building and Denton Link Road respectively in their honour. And finally we provide ongoing support and networking opportunities for veterans through the Tameside Armed Services Community group, TASC.

However, whilst this is a huge range of support services and arguably far more than neighbouring authorities do for their veterans, it still only reaches relatively few of the people that could find their support valuable. It is estimated that, within Tameside, there are more than 4000 members of the armed forces community, though TASC’s membership is just 300. There are therefore more than 3500 more armed forces veterans in the borough that the Council and other organisations who could offer help do not know about. Absurdly, following the 2011 census, we actually know more about the Borough’s Jedi population than we do about our armed forces population!

Under my leadership the Council will continue to support our armed forces community wherever possible, regardless of whether we have the census’ help in doing so. Though, should this campaign be successful, our job will be made much easier.

If you or an organisation you know could lend support to this campaign the details are here http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/get-involved/campaign/count-them-in/.

Is there still life in the “Northern Powerhouse”?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

£556 million of investment has been announced for the North, but is it enough?

There we have it. Seven months to the day after the EU referendum Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled her plan for a post-Brexit Britain. A plan which means that, for the first time in a long time, Britain will have an industrial strategy of some description – which I welcome.

Setting aside the question about whether such a plan should have been formulated prior to June 23rd so that we were prepared in the event of a ‘Leave’ vote, let’s look at the proposals, particularly what they mean for the North, in more detail.

As part of the plans the government has pledged £556 million to the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, an initiative that myself and counterparts in other northern local authorities believed to have gone with the sacking of George Osborne last summer. These were fears which were compounded when the new government also withdrew support for EXPO 2025, planned for Ashton Moss, late last year. It was therefore a relief to see the phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’ reappear in the government’s industrial strategy press release.

However this was only a small comfort. Whilst £556 million sounds like a lot of money, what will it actually buy for the combined regions of the North West, North East and Yorkshire? To put it in to context the total budget of Manchester City Council in 2014/15 was £563 million. The money pledged is therefore less that the amount that just one small part of the North, which in total has a combined population of almost 15 million, had to spend on its half a million residents. £556 million also pales in comparison to the £1.2 billion pledged for the London Underground’s Northern Line extension!

On the government’s project list to be funded by this cash are: an intermodal transport terminal on the East Yorkshire coast, a ‘21st century’ conference centre and hotel at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, £10 million for the Manchester and Cheshire life sciences fund and some flood defences in Yorkshire. I’m not suggesting for a moment that these aren’t worthy projects, but where is the ambition? Where is High Speed 3, the East-West high speed rail link? Where are the plans to build the homes we need for the 2 million on housing waiting lists nationally? Where is the money for the circular Metrolink line that would connect Greater Manchester’s satellite towns without the need to travel across the city centre?

I know I’m not the only one who is disappointed with the underwhelming announcements from the Prime Minister and Business Secretary yesterday. Indeed, senior figures in the Leeds City Region criticised the announcements for handing almost double the amount of cash that Leeds is getting to Greater Manchester. So if I’m annoyed about the lack of ambition and meagre amounts of money pledged when other areas think we’ve done alright, colleagues from elsewhere in the north must be positively furious!

I began this blog by welcoming the industrial strategy, and I do. Despite its shortcomings it is, after all, more than anything else we’ve had for a long time. Though my message to the government is – don’t do things by halves. This is a good start, but if this is it the ‘Industrial Strategy’ and ‘Northern Powerhouse’ will be things that will exist in name only.

Major progress on Vision Tameside

Friday, January 13th, 2017
The steel signing ceremony in December last year

The steel signing ceremony in December last year

Late last year I had the pleasure of visiting the site of the former TAC in Ashton-under-Lyne, now demolished to make way for a new state of the art joint public service centre. The visit was an opportunity to see the progress that had been made in laying the foundations for the new building and ceremonially sign the first part of the steel framework that will support the building.

Something that struck me when arriving in the compound was just how large a site the former TAC occupied.  Built in 1981 to replace a range of offices across the Borough, TAC brought together Tameside Council staff and facilities under one roof. By the end however the building was half empty and costing more to keep open then was either justifiable to local taxpayers or affordable in the age of austerity. Whilst TAC was an innovative idea and facility when constructed, the 1980s specifications it was built to were unsuitable for the 21st century, and architecturally it’s unclear whether the design was ever consistent with any fashions.

When we commissioned the new building we were determined that we wouldn’t repeat previous mistakes. The new public service centre currently under construction will meet the highest energy efficiency criteria possible and cost significantly less that the £1.7 million per year that TAC cost to run. It will be shared with Tameside College and house their advanced skills centre, further reducing the costs to local taxpayers whilst providing our young people with the skills they need to be successful in life in a first class setting. There will be space for Wilko to return to the site from their temporary home in the Arcades and the historic stone façade, behind which the Co-operative Bank and the Cheshire Building Society were housed, will be retained.

At the time of my visit in December only one staircase had been constructed. Having been in Ashton this lunch time significant progress has been made since. It’s clear that 2017 will be where the building will really begin to take shape and residents will see major changes even from outside the site barriers.

There has been significant progress on site since last year

There has been significant progress on site since last year

Whilst the signing ceremony itself was a major milestone in the beginning of construction work, the more significant milestone will be the completion. The regeneration of Ashton Town Centre and wider Tameside that this project has kick-started is more significant than anything else since the formation of the Borough in 1974. Jobs have been, and continue to be, created as ‘Vision Tameside’ progresses, and the local economy has been boosted by the money these workers spend locally and the increased footfall in to the town centre.

As I look back at the Council reports that were considered to agree the construction of this building I recall one of the reasons listed as making TAC’s replacement necessary was its £2 million maintenance backlog. Whilst I could spend time wondering how and why it was allowed to get to that point I am more minded to think that we were fortunate not to have spent that money keeping up to date with the maintenance of a building that had not been fit for purpose for some time.

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Friday, January 6th, 2017

one-you-localised-postNew Year, new you, or so the saying goes. We’re now a few days in to 2017 and all but a very small number will likely have managed to stick to any New Year’s resolutions so far.

I’ve heard a few from friends and family about giving up particular foods, drinks and even social media. Though if, like millions of others, your resolution relates to improving your health and fitness then the Council, in partnership with Tameside and Glossop Clinical Commissioning Group and Public Health England, will be able to help.

Public Health England has launched a national campaign to mitigate the impact of modern life on the nation’s health. Research has found that the effects are particularly acute amongst the middle aged. 87% of men and 79% of women aged 40-60 are overweight or obese, exceed the Chief Medical Officer’s alcohol guidelines or are physically inactive. Obesity was found to be the biggest problem for this group with 77% of men and 63% of women overweight or obese, an increase of 16% in the past 20 years. `These problems, if not tackled, can lead to more serious illnesses, such as diabetes, later on. Since the mid-90s the number of middle aged people being diagnosed with this illness has doubled.

But help is at hand. The experts at Public Health England have devised a quiz that asks a few simple questions about diet and exercise and offers advice at the end based on your responses. There are also a range of smartphone and tablet apps available to help guide you. They’re all very easy to use and I can strongly recommend them.

Here at the Council we’re doing our bit too. This time last year I was writing about the £20 million investment in our leisure facilities that would see Tameside’s sports facilities drastically improved with new centres being opened and upgrades to existing ones. The first, which opened in Novemeber last year, was the conversion of the Active Longdendale gymnastics centre in to trampoline and soft play centre Total Adrenaline. This is a facility that will encourage young Tamesiders to get active from a very early age.

Total Adrenaline opened in November 2016

Total Adrenaline opened in November 2016

Later this month will see the opening of iTrain gym in Dukinfield. Making use of the old Dukinfield Baths, which had reached the end of its life, the gym will offer 24/7 access plus a crèche, café and meeting rooms for use by community groups. It will be a true community hub.

In the longer term Hyde leisure pool will be extended to house a regular swimming pool alongside the existing leisure pool, Ashton leisure centre will be refurbished or rebuilt and Denton will have a new state of the art ‘Wellness Centre’.

I have long believed that the success of a place is about more than just shiny new buildings or ‘physical regeneration’ to use the technical term. It’s about the health and wellbeing of the people who live there too. Our partnership with Tameside and Glossop CCG, Active Tameside and Public Health England and this investment demonstrates that, under my leadership, Tameside Council is committed to this agenda. As the year progresses many more plans and projects will come forward that will back this up and lays the foundations for the success of Tameside, as a place, long in to the future.

Avoiding the Christmas hangover

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017
£1.5 billion was borrowed by households this year to pay for Christmas

£1.5 billion was borrowed by households this year to pay for Christmas

For this first blog of 2017 I want to talk about ‘catching up’ after the festive period. Not the catching up that thousands of Tameside residents are doing at work or school this week, but the financial catching up following the cost of Christmas.

With families wanting to make the most of the time with their loved ones that the Christmas period affords, many will have gone the extra mile to make the celebrations special. Whether that’s the new smartphone craved by the teenage son or daughter, the piece of jewellery for a partner or just keeping the fridge stocked with food and drink, all of this adds up.

Clearly though this is not something that anybody would want to be thinking about at the time, and that’s sadly why many will have a ‘Christmas hangover’ when overdrafts are maxed-out and credit card bills arrive in mid-January. It’s for this reason that debt charities Citizen’s advice and National Debtline are expecting January to be a busy month.

Citizens advice offers support to those in financial difficulty

Citizens advice offers support to those in financial difficulty

But where’s the news in that? People spending more money at Christmas – that’s nothing new is it? Though what is new is that the two debt charities are predicting that not only will this January be a busy time, it will be their busiest January in years. As well as having to pay for festive indulgence, in 2017 residents are set to be met with higher prices, rising utility bills and wages that are failing to grow at the same pace as inflation. It’s no surprise then that social research charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 55% of people classed as in poverty are from working households. This is a figure that, on the current trajectory, is only set to grow.

And so what is the solution? In my view it’s not simply extending the credit fuelled consumer boom with more personal and household debt. It’s about creating more well paid jobs.

We do that through the investment in infrastructure that I’ve long championed as both Leader of the Council and Chair of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund. By building the decent homes that the thousands on housing waiting lists are crying out for. And by training people to do the well paid, skilled jobs that will allow them to put food on the table for their families and not have to worry about money when Christmas or a birthday comes around.

National Debtline offers advice to those in debt

National Debtline offers advice to those in debt

The Council, with our jobs and employment pledges, and the Pension Fund, with our infrastructure investment pot, have shown that we are more than prepared to play our role in building an economy that works for everyone, though we cannot do this alone. Only a clear change of direction in government policy from austerity to investment will end the precarious existence of what Ed Miliband termed the ‘squeezed middle’ and Theresa May calls the ‘JAMs’.

I hope that, for the sake of those who could be described by these terms, in 2017 more effort is expended in pursuing policies that we improve living standards than in coming up with jargon to make the description of their decline more accessible on the six o clock news.

 

For those in need of debt advice or otherwise, visit the website of Tameside Citizens Advice.

Alternatively, the contact details of debt charity National Debtline can be found on their website.

Merry Christmas Tameside!

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

kq-leaders-christmas-card

It’s that time again. On behalf of Tameside Council I would like to take this chance to wish you, your family and your friends a Happy and Peaceful Christmas and New Year.

As I do every year, I would ask you to keep those who are less fortunate than us in your thoughts over the Christmas period. The strength of a community is judged not by how they treat their best off, but on how they treat their worst off. A simple donation of time or money could make all the difference to somebody alone, homeless or vulnerable at this time of year.

Let’s also keep on our thoughts everybody for whom Christmas is another working day, particularly those in the armed forces, the NHS, our health and social care workers and the police and fire services. While we sit down to enjoy our turkey and crackers they will be working hard to make sure that we can do so in safety and comfort.

The Christmas holidays are always a good time to take a step back and take stock of the year that has just passed. It would be fair to say that there is a lot more to reflect on in 2016 than there has been in any year I can remember. From the passing of so many people who have enriched our lives and culture to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, I wouldn’t blame you if you felt that 365 days is too short a time to cram in everything that has happened.

It’s been a significant year in Tameside as well. On a sombre note, it began and ended with floods. Tameside is not an area that many would associate with such flooding, but we faced one of the wettest Januarys on national record and then a month’s worth of rain falling in a few hours at the end of November. I’d like to thank the efforts of our communities and council employees during both incidents, many of whom went far above and beyond the call of duty to help residents and clean up after the deluge had subsided. Unfortunately, given what we know about the effects of manmade climate change, we will almost certainly have to prepare as a borough, as a country and as a planet for more and worse events in the future.

But let’s focus on the positive as well. Our plans, announced at the start of the year, to invest £20 million in our leisure centres are beginning to bear fruit. New facilities have opened at Total Adrenaline in Mottram, and next year will see both the opening of Dukinfield’s iTrain gym and the work beginning on a new swimming pool for Hyde and the Denton Wellness Centre. We’re continuing to make good progress on our trailblazing work on health and social care integration, working together to help people live longer and healthier lives while saving money at the same time. We have completed many of our pledges for 2016, such as Dementia Friends, Woodland for Wildlife and Do More Together, and work on other pledges such as Honour Our Fallen, Lots More Lighting and Every Child a Coder will continue into the New Year and beyond.

Despite very difficult global and financial circumstances, I feel confident that we’ve made Tameside a better place to live at the end of the year than it was at the start. Next year, we’ll build on that success, working with our residents and partners to move the borough we all love onwards and upwards.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2017.

Railway privatisation – haven’t we been here before?

Monday, December 19th, 2016

railwaysThere’s a popular saying, apparently coined by Albert Einstein, that the definition of insanity is “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.

I’ve written about this in the past, but for those who missed it last time here’s how I summed up how the UK runs its railways. It’s an expensive joke; privatisation has led to the consumer paying some of the highest costs in Europe for the worst levels of service while railway operators rake in ridiculous profits. The result of this price gouging and mismanagement has been that support for renationalising our railways crosses geographical, social and party political lines. People who agree on literally nothing else; Labour or Tory, Leave or Remain, agree that our railways would be better off back in public hands.

So how does our government, in its infinite wisdom, respond to this unprecedented groundswell of popular opinion? They do the exact opposite.

The announcement by the Transport Secretary of a fully privatised railway line from Oxford to Cambridge, the so-called “Varsity Line”, is problematic for a number of reasons. The first one requires a little bit of background. When the railways were first privatised in the 90s, the infrastructure (tracks, signals, tunnels, bridges, level crossings and most of the stations) passed into the hands of a private company called RailTrack. The problem with this arrangement was that RailTrack was obliged to deliver a profit while at the same time maintaining the infrastructure required for our trains to run quickly and safely. Following a series of incidents, investigations revealed that the bill to meet the maintenance backlog after years of private neglect ran up to £580 million. That led to RailTrack being shut down and replaced by publically-owned Network Rail (but not before RailTrack used £137 million of public bailout money to pay its shareholders despite making a half a billion pound loss). Bringing back private running of infrastructure on the new Varsity Line makes me fear that this government, having not learnt from the sad history of RailTrack, is doomed to repeat it.

The second problem is that while the government is falling over itself to plough hundreds of millions of pounds into a railway linking one leafy, rich bit of the South to another leafy, rich bit of the South vital projects in the North continue to be kicked into the long grass. We’ve had no further details on what’s happening with the Transpennine and East Midlands electrifications following the announcement that work on them would be “unpaused”, and further afield the electrification of the Hull-Selby line has been cancelled entirely. Modern transport infrastructure is at the heart of every serious plan for making the “Northern Powerhouse” a reality. The difference in age, speed and cleanliness on the railways in the North and the South is one of the starkest illustrations of the divide within our country, and any backtracking on putting the money in to start fixing it is worrying to say the least.

We need to make the North’s voice heard loud and clear when it comes to handing out the money for vital rail projects, and that needs to be embedded in a national rail system that works for the taxpayer and passengers. At the moment we have neither, and all we’ve been promised is more privatisation and more money for the South. The government is doing the same thing over and over again, and I’m certainly not expecting a different result this time.

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