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Archive for the ‘Investment’ Category

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.

A Wake-Up Call on Decent Housing

Friday, October 21st, 2016


Britain has a housing crisis. That isn’t the first time I’ve said that or something similar on this blog, and unfortunately it almost certainly won’t be the last time either. Much of the debate about this housing crisis is often tied up in homelessness or the lack of houses being built, and while they are incredibly important issues, focusing on them exclusively risks losing sight of a wider, deeper problem. Much in the same way that many of those in poverty are also in work, many of those who suffer the consequences of Britain’s housing crisis have a roof over their head.

It’s a problem that has been laid bare by Shelter. Just in time for their 50th birthday, the national housing charity has released a report on what they term the “Living Home Standard”. Working with market research company Ipsos Mori, Shelter have used discussion groups, surveys and workshop to ask the British public, the men and women on the street, what matters to them when it comes to owning and renting a home. The result is a fair but comprehensive set of 39 criteria that must be met in order to provide an acceptable home that secure the occupant’s well-being, broken down into five categories; affordability, decent conditions, space, stability and a good neighbourhood.

Now the bad news. By Shelter’s estimates, 43% of people in Britain do not live in a home that meets those standards. Of those 43%, just over a quarter failed on affordability, almost a fifth failed to meet the standard for decent conditions (including pests, dampness and safety hazards) and one out of every ten renters were struggling on insecure, short-term tenancies that allowed them no room to plan for the future. Think about that for a moment. If 43% of people in Britain couldn’t get enough food, or if the unemployment or poverty rate was 43%, there would be an uproar and rightly so. Yet we still continue to allow so many people in Britain to be failed when it comes to one of the most basic of needs, the need for decent housing.

It’s not just the numbers as well. The report brings together harrowing stories about just what it means to those 43% living in substandard accommodation. From the single mother with two children living in a one-bedroom flat, to the woman whose house was so riddled with mould that the furniture literally fell apart around her, and the man who couldn’t afford to buy a birthday present for his son after the month’s rent had gone out. They have all paid the price for our country’s negligence in making sure that housing is available for those who need it. There may be someone close to you in a similar situation, or perhaps you yourself are in that situation. Don’t you think there has to be a better way?

In Tameside, we think there is. That’s why we’re working with private landlords on the issues that matter to them and to tenants. That’s why we’re doing our bit to help build the 250,000 homes a year we know need to be built just to keep up with demand nationwide. That’s why we’ll continue to bang the drum for rental contracts that give security and flexibility to both landlords and tenants. Although the statistics and the stories paint a dark picture indeed, I believe that real and positive change is possible if we work together and leave no stone unturned in pursuit of our goals. The alternative is more of the same, and that is not something that any of us should live with or accept.

Are grammar schools fit for the 21st century?

Friday, September 16th, 2016

Mossley Hollins, one of many schools across Tameside to benefit from investment

Despite the referendum having taken place almost three months ago, the Brexit debate continues to rumble on in the press and on our TV screens. However, whilst not having gone away, these last few days it has been knocked off the front pages by something new. I’m talking of course about the debate over the merits of grammar schools and the government’s plans to resurrect these institutions in some form following the ban on the opening of any new ones in 1998.

Now, in the interests of transparency, I must begin by saying that I attended a grammar school myself. The school provided an excellent standard of education at the time and gave many of those who attended the tools that they needed to get on in life. However, I was the only child at my primary school to get a place, with the rest attending the local secondary modern where they received a very different type and standard of education. I can recall at the time wondering why I had to catch a bus to get to a school further away whilst my friends all went to one around the corner. For different reasons, I still wonder this now, and wonder even more now the government has announced plans to bring back grammar schools.

My view is quite simple; a grammar school system does not work. How can it be possible to genuinely assess what a child might be capable of in later life by having them take a single exam at age 11? How can it be fair to tell large numbers of 11 year olds that they do not deserve the best possible education on offer and are only worth a lesser standard which will limit their career and employment options for the rest of their life? Surely every child should have the same opportunities to grow and better themselves as much as possible?

Some have chosen to dismiss these views as left wing idealism, but critics of the system come from across the political spectrum. A man you may have heard of once said ‘There is a kind of hopelessness about the demand to bring back grammars, an assumption that this country will only ever be able to offer a decent education to a select few,’ that man was former Prime Minister David Cameron, a man that regular readers will know I do not believe to be any champion of the left!

There is an abundance of evidence that shows that a grammar school system fails huge numbers of children too, particularly bright children from poorer backgrounds. Ahead of writing this blog I made a comparison between Tameside and Kent, a place where grammar schools never went away. In 2015 in Kent, the garden of England and one of the wealthiest counties in the UK, 57.3% of pupils achieved five good GCSEs including English and Maths. Here in Tameside, under the comprehensive system and with our arguably less favourable demographics, we achieved exactly the same proportion. A look at how low the share of children on free school meals attending the remaining grammar schools is sets alarm bells ringing too. The reasons behind this couldn’t have been illustrated better than they were on BBC Breakfast the other morning where every parent interviewed in a grammar school area admitted to paying for tutoring to coach their child for the 11+.

I’m clear that the best way to improve education for our children is to invest in world class facilities and ensure quality teaching for all children. That’s why we invested £250 million in refurbishing or rebuilding our schools and set up the Tameside schools’ self improvement network, the A+ trust. It’s an approach that has delivered the most rapidly improving exam results in the North West in 2015 and further improvements this year. Theresa May says that every child deserves the ‘chance’ of attending a good school, I believe they deserve the guarantee.

Britain’s Olympic Success Shows the Power of Investment

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

374EB3EA00000578-0-image-m-83_1471394263779There is nothing in the world that can bring a country together like sport. After a summer in which the only constant seems to have been national argument and division, how refreshing was it to come together to celebrate the British men and women who return back from Brazil with a record haul of 67 medals? We ended up in 2nd place, with more gold medals than China. If Greater Manchester was a country we’d be joint 17th with Spain in the final standings. No matter which way you look at it, the achievements of our athletes has been nothing short of incredible.

It wasn’t always like this. At the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, despite some excellent performances by the likes of Sir Steve Redgrave, Denise Lewis and Ben Ainsley; Britain finished a woeful 36th in the medal table, behind countries like Algeria, North Korea and Kazakhstan. Much of the blame for the debacle was put down to a lack of funding and investment in elite sport. Newspapers at the time contained stories about British athletes selling their kits to raise money, and Chris Boardman, who won a bronze medal in cycling, famously had to prepare for the humidity of Georgia by training in his London bathroom with the shower on.

The channelling of National Lottery funding into elite sports began the long, slow process of turning around the decline. In the Sydney games British athletes received £59 million of funding, which increased to £71 million in Athens, £235 million in Beijing and £264 million in London. The medal count duly increased as well, from 15 in Atlanta (36th), to 28 in Sydney (10th), 30 in Athens (10th), 47 in Beijing (4th) and 65 in London (3rd).

This is the lesson we should learn. Identifying and investing in our strengths, with clear goals and strategies of how to meet them, is the surest path to improvement and results. If it works for our Olympic athletes there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t work for our infrastructure, for our public services and for our economy.

It doesn’t have to happen at the national level either. Our £20 million investment in our leisure facilities is an example of how we can drive this locally. We’re not investing to win medals or awards (although I definitely won’t complain if we get them), it’s investing to help people change their lifestyles and improve their health and quality of life. The objectives may be different, but the path to getting there looks remarkably similar. All you need then is the political will to make it happen. That’s why I’m particularly disappointed by the government’s watering down of their much-hyped obesity strategy last week. We know that what you eat is as important for a healthy lifestyle as how much you exercise, but we do not have the power at a local government level to regulate and legislate against junk food and sugary drinks. As our athletes show what can achieved with investment and commitment, our government continues to lag behind on both counts.

Let’s start to change that, and make 2016 our national “Atlanta moment”. The momentTLR - Twitterstraps V33 where we realise that continuing on the path we’re on is letting our potential as a country go to waste. The moment where we decide that now is the time to arrest the decline, and back that up with real investment, real strategies and real leadership on healthy living and many other national issues. That would be as fitting an Olympic legacy as I could think of.

Taking Action Against the Costs of Poverty

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

I’ve said in the past that the levels of poverty we are seeing in the UK, a rich and developed country by any standard, is morally unacceptable and socially damaging. In a country that collectively earns £1.9 trillion a year (approximately £
29,000 each if averaged out among every man, woman and child living here) half a million citizens each year are still forced to visit food banks. Over 1 in 5 families with children are at least short of having the minimum income that people think is needed to participate in our society.

It goes without saying that those who suffer the most from this poverty are those who are directly affected by it. However, evidence is now emerging that the costs and consequences of poverty may have a far broader reach. The recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report, produced by Heriot-Watt and Loughborough Universities, attempts for the first time to give us firm numbers on how poverty impacts the public purse.

The report concludes that poverty is directly responsible for almost £69 billion of public spending a year. By far the largest portion of this additional public spending is from healthcare, with estimates of the costs of treating health conditions associated with poverty running as high as £29 billion. To put it into perspective, that’s almost a quarter of the UK’s total annual spend on acute care and primary care. Other costs include £10 billion on schools providing initiatives such as free school meals and pupil premiums, £9 billion on policing to deal with higher incidences of crime in more deprived areas, £7.5 billion on children’s services and early year’s provision, £4.6 billion on adult social care and £4 billion on housing. A further £9 billion of costs can be attributed to knock-on effects of poverty such as higher unemployment and lower earnings later in life, including £4 billion in lost tax revenues and £5 billion in additional benefits such as job seeker’s allowances, employment and support allowance and pension credit.

There are two lessons that we should heed from this report. Firstly, taking real, effective action to tackle poverty would bring
not only huge social rewards, but huge economic rewards as well. Secondly, it highlights the false economy of austerity, as any money saved by cuts to services is dwarfed by the additional money spent dealing with both the immediate and knock-on effects of those very same cuts.

With a new government in place and economic uncertainty growing, now is the time fImage result for jrf povertyor a radical and different approach to eradicating poverty in the UK. We need concentrated effort from government, businesses and individuals. We need to realise that refusing to spend now in a way that will bring long-term economic and social benefits isn’t prudent financial management, but unforgivable short-sightedness. We need to reframe tackling poverty as a vital step to creating better public services and a better economy. If we wan
t to be a kinder, fairer and better country, we can and must do all of this, and do it now.

Solving the Real Housing Crisis

Friday, August 5th, 2016


For many people in Britain, the dream of home ownership remains a key priority, a milestone on the road to adulthood and a goal that motivates millions to work and plan for a brighter future. Increasingly however, it is a dream under threat. When people think of the cost of housing in Britain, the typical image that usually springs to mind is of offshore companies buying empty properties valued in the tens of millions in some of the posher bits of London. While that’s undoubtedly a part of it, it obscures some of the deeper and more insidious problems, the real housing crisis, that people face when trying to keep a roof over their head in 21st century Britain.

That’s why the recent report on Britain’s housing market from the Resolution Foundation should be taken seriously. The report identifies three reasons for a decline in home ownership in the UK; rising prices caused largely (but not entirely) by a lack of homes being built, stagnant wages and a tightening of the easy credit and mortgages that helped to bridge the gap until now.

It’s not hard to see where we go from there, and the report confirms that home ownership rates have dropped not just in London, but across the entire country. In England, rates of home ownership peaked at 71% of the population in 2003 and have now dropped to 64%. That mirrors similar changes in Scotland (Peak of 69% in 2004 to 63% now), Wales (Peak of 75% in 2006 to 70% now) and Northern Ireland (Peak of 73% in 2006 to 63% now). The biggest fall in home ownership, however, has happened right here in Greater Manchester. From a peak of 72% in 2003 home ownership rates have plummeted to 58% today.

We need to understand this, and work with housing associations and the private sector to create a diverse and balanced housing market that provides for residents at all stages and walks of life. Devolved authorities and housing associations are well-placed to start making that vital change happen.

We must come together, combining our voices to make the government consider measures to encourage public sector house building, such as lifting caps on council borrowing for housing and associated infrastructure, allowing all of the money raised from homes sold under Right-to-Buy to be ploughed back into local housing stock, and encouraging and funding the commissioning of private developers by the public sector. However, these measures need to go beyond promoting home ownership and social rent into providing for those who rent privately as well. Over the last ten years, the private rented sector in Tameside has increased by over 45%, and it’s not going to get smaller any time soon. That’s why we’ve brought private landlords into our discussions as well, and we’ll continue to work with them to encourage good practice and make sure that private rented is a real and quality alternative for those who cannot or will not buy or rent socially.

There’s no time to waste. Following last month’s Brexit vote a number of construction companies, most notably Barratt Homes, have announced they are either slowing or considering slowing their pace of construction until the economic picture becomes clearer. At a time where we need to build 200,000 new homes a year just to keep up with demand that’s time we cannot afford to lose. For the sake of our young people and their children, let’s unleash the potential of both the public and private sectors to take on the one of the biggest challenges our country faces.

A Privatisation Too Far

Friday, July 15th, 2016


Amidst the drama of the last few weeks it’s easy to forget that the business of running the country is still continuing. For people who are concerned about the actions of this government it is especially worrying, as they have a golden opportunity to push through unpopular or controversial policies while the attention of the media and the population is concentrating on the fallout from the referendum.

One of the biggest issues that could slip under the radar in this manner is the government pushing ahead with the privatisation of the Land Registry. Established in 1925, the Land Registry is, quite simply, a record which holds information about land and property across England and Wales. It is estimated that 87% of all the land in the country is covered by the Registry, adding up to a total value of £4 trillion (including £1 trillion in mortgages). If you’ve ever bought or sold any kind of property (a house, a shop etc.) odds are that a record of it will be found on the Land Registry.

But the Registry is more than a simple record of who owns what and where. An entry on the Land Registry means that your property rights are protected by the state. Governments and markets use information about house prices and sales to judge the health of the British economy. While it costs money to run, the fees it charges mean that has also delivered back a profit to the Treasury for 19 years out of the last 20.

Put simply, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and it makes money for the country while doing it. Furthermore, unlike utilities, transport and other public service sell-offs of the past, there isn’t an argument to introduce more competition. It’s easy to image several competing electricity companies or bus operators; it’s a great deal harder to imagine several competing Land Registries.

But there is a bigger argument than simply efficiency and profit. At a time where the housing crisis and large-scale tax avoidance have become massive political issues, a transparent and impartial Land Registry is required now more than ever. Handing it over a private company that may want to reduce transparency to protect their commercial confidentiality or hide conflicts of interest is utterly counter-productive to achieving this. It’s not just me saying this, as an attempt to privatise the Registry in 2014 was vetoed by the Liberal Democrats. Two years later, MPs from all the major parties (including a former Conservative minister) along with non-partisan bodies like the Law Society and the Competition and Markets Authority are still united in their belief that this is a privatisation too far for those who value transparency and impartiality.

I pride myself on being a supporter of strong, independent businesses. If a serious case can be made for a service being run better or more efficiently by the private sector, then I’ll give it a fair hearing. What I’m against is privatisation that aims for nothing but a short term monetary gain, regardless of what the negative consequences will be in the future. Selling off the Land Registry is about as clear cut an example of this “bad” kind of privatisation as I can imagine. I urge the government to look again.

Looking to the Future in Tameside

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016


In politics, as in life, you can have periods where it seems like a years’ worth of events are occurring in the space of a few weeks. That’s exactly how I felt yesterday as I held the first meeting of Full Council since the EU Referendum.

The political and economic shockwaves from the result are still playing out, and I don’t think anybody can say for sure where we’re going to be as a country at the end of it all. The focus must now be on making sure that Tameside is in the best position to survive and thrive in a future outside the European Union. At yesterday’s meeting of Full Council we took the first steps towards successfully undertaking this most vital of tasks.

An important part of this will be making sure that the council is more responsive to the needs and concerns of local residents. There is a general acceptance that the current system of District Assemblies can be improved to better fit the history and geography of Tameside, and to make sure that reduced levels of government funding can be better targeted at where they have the greatest impact.

To that end, we have proposed to replace the District Assemblies with nine town councils and two wider Neighbourhood Forums. These new bodies will be encouraged to generate their own income to support plans for their communities. They will also be far cheaper to run, freeing up around £45,000 that can be ploughed back into other projects.

We’re also looking at the bigger picture as well. Just as residents need to feel like decisions in Tameside are things that are done with them and not to them, so Tameside and Greater Manchester need to have more input on decisions that affect them at a national level. In the short term, this should involve Greater Manchester having a seat at the table when the Brexit discussions begin.

In the longer term, we need to look at an approach to devolution that is far more ambitious than the current top down, make-it-up-as-we-go-along parcelling out of powers from the centre. I want to see all parts of our United Kingdom, countries and cities alike, handed not just power but real sovereignty. There have already been some exciting developments in this area, and I will be following them closely as the dust settles from the referendum.

What is clear is that we cannot waste time by trying to re-fight the referendum. We must move quickly and respond to what has happened in a productive and positive manner. It’s true that things will never be the same again, but let’s work together to make sure that change is good for Tameside and for everybody who lives, works and does business here.


SWIFT and Free Internet for Tameside

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016


When I unveiled the council’s 16 pledges for 2016 in February, I said that one of our aims was to put Tameside in the best position to benefit from the technology and businesses of the future. One of the most important things we need to do to achieve this is make sure that the physical infrastructure and technology is in place to support the people and businesses that want to step into this brave new world.

That’s why I’m happy to report that by the autumn our plan to roll out Wi-Fi to all nine of our town centres will be complete.  The Smart Wireless Internet for Tameside – or SWIFT network for short – will provide free, fast and easy internet access to residents and businesses in the hearts of our towns. It will be one of the most extensive, comprehensive public Wi-Fi networks in the UK outside of our major cities.

The SWIFT network will also allow our partners and local businesses to work with us to get the maximum benefit out of it in a way that would never have been possible before. To give you just a few examples; many of our colleges and health providers are exploring ways to link up the SWIFT network to their own Wi-Fi networks, offering seamless access to students, staff and patients. Purple Wi-Fi will be using the network to assist us in delivering our “Every Child a Coder” pledge, giving our children the skills they need to succeed in the high-technology economy. The fibre that the SWIFT network will be run on will also connect up to the renovated Ashton Old Baths, providing connectivity to the businesses based there.

006We expect the SWIFT network to release large dividends in future jobs and business opportunities. Much of the infrastructure required is already in place from projects such as the Metrolink extension. The major work will be in setting up the access points for the network, but even here we have found a solution which ties seamlessly into other projects. The access points for the SWIFT network will be mounted in the posts of the LED street lights we are rolling out across the borough, which will themselves cut running costs and reduce Tameside’s carbon footprint.

This is a low-cost, low-risk investment in the technology of the future. It will release huge economic and social benefits by giving any businesses and residents who wants to access the internet in our town centres the ability to do so free of charge. Most of all, it’s a big step on the road to building a Tameside ready for the economy of the 21st century.

Doing What Works in Tameside

Thursday, May 12th, 2016


In my last blog I talked about the big steps we have made as a council over the past twelve months, and how those achievements have been recognised by our residents at the ballot box and by other public sector bodies through being nominated for, and winning, a number of awards.

One of the reasons we have gotten this far is that while we are unwavering on what we want to achieve, we have taken a pragmatic and flexible approach to how we achieve it. For us, delivery is not a discussion about “public or private”, but a discussion about “what works and what doesn’t work”.

To give you just two very recent examples; one of the reasons why we have been able to invest £20 million into preserving and upgrading our leisure facilities is by incorporating a commercial offer to encourage private investment through things like on-site cafés and ten-pin bowling. We also managed to bring cotton spinning back to Tameside for the first time in over a century by bringing together private companies such as Culimeta Saveguard with public funding from bodies like the Textile Growth Programme.

Often it is all too easy, depending on your political views, to write off either the public sector or the private sector. You’ll always find somebody willing to label the public sector as workshy and ineffective, just like you’ll always find somebody willing to condemn the private sector as short-termist and rapacious. At times there may be some examples that lend truth to those claims, but when you’re trying to deliver for residents falling back on stereotypes and assumptions is an easy route to failure.

If you want to see what happens when you do fall prey to the fallacy of “public sector bad, private sector good”, look no further than what is happening to Tata Steel. It is clear to most people that we cannot allow a strategically vital British industry to go to the wall, yet it cannot survive in its current state in the private sector.

The obvious solution is to allow for the public sector to do more, bringing together the best of public and private to save the steel industry and reform it to better meet the challenges ahead. That’s what’s worked in Tameside, and it sounds like that’s the approach the government is going to take as well. I only wish they had done it sooner instead of sitting back while the warning bells were ringing.

It is our focus on “What works” that has allowed us to deliver on our plans for Tameside in the past, and sticking by it will allow us to deliver on our plans for the future as well. We don’t just believe it’s the right thing to do, the results have proven to us that it’s the right thing to do. There will be much more proof in the months and years to come.

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